Why Refuelling Should Return to F1

Image: Creative Commons

For years now, Formula One has been gearing towards 2021 and the impending regulation changes — probably the most important changes to the sport in its history.

A lot of has been discussed to improve the state of F1, to improve racing and the competitive balance. So many things have been on the table with regards possible changes, but for the longest time refuelling wasn’t one of them.

For the uninitiated, in-race refuelling has been banned since 2010 and strategy in Formula 1 hasn’t been the same since.

Pirelli introduced high-degrading tyres in 2011 and while these added some drama to F1 strategy for a few years, patience with them fell thin and change was desired.

Now, most races these days are 1-stops bore-fests and have largely been so since 2017, with a few exceptions.

In a hand-full of examples, strategy has been a deciding factor for some race wins (it’s certainly played its part in midfield battles, less so for the race win) but for the most part with 1-stop races limiting strategy options, it’s been about pure race-pace which obviously plays to Mercedes’ advantage in the last few years, being the class of the field.

Despite diverse strategies amongst the top teams being fairly non existent for years now (though, Red Bull were sometimes willing to try something different as the third fastest team and Ferrari…well, being Ferrari), the prospect of refuelling never really came up as a means to add to the strategy. Which was always a great shame because it added a strategy dynamic that F1 has missed since it was banned.

But in recent weeks the topic has come up in conversation and, it seems, there’s a possibility that refuelling could make a return in the future.

Refuelling has had its opposition in recent years, and I understand why.

We’ve all seen the famous pitlane fire of Germany 1994 and most F1 fans are fairly familiar with Singapore 2008, amongst various other refuelling related incidents across the years of refuelling.

People said F1 had outgrown refuelling. That these 2 second/sub-2 second pitstops are the new pitstop identity of F1. And for years it hasn’t been necessary. But it is now.

Look, those pitstops are great, don’t get me wrong. They are absolutely clockwork and they’re fantastic to watch. But they can’t become a reason why F1 doesn’t go back to refuelling, they can’t be the reason why F1 doesn’t have a greater strategy element, which in turn, creates better races. We’re only seeing a few of these per race anyways because of the crappy Pirelli tyres we have making the majority of races 1-stoppers.

If we’re stuck with Pirelli as F1’s sole tyre supplier for the foreseeable future and these are the type of tyres F1 is stuck with, then refuelling needs to return — there has to be more to strategy than there currently is. When Pirelli ran the high degrading tyres, there wasn’t a need because this new element was creating 2, 3 sometimes even 4 pitstops per driver per race. But that dynamic doesn’t exist anymore.

But what refuelling would also do is jumble up the grid a bit and create a bit more unpredictability.

Every weekend for years now we’ve gone into it knowing it’s more than likely going to be a Mercedes on pole position — and it’s probably going to be Lewis Hamilton. And heading into the race then, you know it’s probably going to be a Mercedes victory, because they’re on pole position and they just run away from everyone else — which, sadly, has been largely the case in 2019.

Of course there are exceptions but that’s generally how it’s gone over the years.

In the past, driver’s would start the race on the fuel load they qualified on. Bringing back refuelling would at least add some spice to Saturday’s again, even if the race itself ends up with Mercedes being on top. Let’s wander down a potentially dangerous rabbit hole…

The classic early 2000’s Ferrari vs. hybrid Mercedes debate is one that’s difficult to quantify (given the different time eras) but when it comes to refuelling, qualifying-to race, there’s a few things you can compare — one era had refuelling, one did not.

So… for reference we’ll go from 2000-2004 for Ferrari and 2014-2018 for Mercedes — both represent 5 year stretches of F1 dominance (a little less so in 2003 for Ferrari and 2018 for Mercedes, both years where both teams won about half of the races instead of, roughly three-quarters).

In 85 races from 2000-2004, Ferrari took 60% of the pole positions and won 67% of the races in that span. In 100 races from 2014-2018, Mercedes have taken 84% of pole positions and have won 74% of the races.

In addition, only 43% of pole positions were converted into wins from 2000-2004, while 53% of poles have been converted into wins from 2014-2018, so read into that what you will (there isn’t as much of a correlation to refuelling vs. no refuelling with that stat).

There’s a ton you can read into and take away from that (you can get into the whole, ‘Lewis Hamilton wouldn’t have so many poles if there was refuelling allowed’ conversation if you want) but I believe there is a correlation between the winning percentage for Ferrari being higher than their pole position percentage from 2000-2004, and I think a certain amount of this has to do with the fact there was refuelling, allowing other teams to have banzai runs to pole position, such as Jenson Button’s 2004 San Marino pole position, Fernando Alonso’s maiden pole position at Malaysia 2003, and Jaguar often got Mark Webber far up the field using a similar ploy.

There were some instances where this actually worked, such as Hungary 2003 where the short-fuelled Alonso was able to getaway in the lead while the chasing pack was stuck behind Mark Webber’s similarly fuelled Jaguar.

Refuelling also gave the high-tiered midfield teams a chance to go for a glory pole position and gave us different and surprising pole sitters/unpredictable grids — which again, helps create some excitement on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. Ralf Schumacher’s 2005 Japanese Grand Prix pole position, Toyota’s front row lockout in Bahrain 2009 — these are just some examples (coincidentally, both from Toyota).

It created more fun, and gave F1 different pole sitters — change is always good.

On the Sundays, the true pace was revealed and it was Ferrari who usually won out, but at least Saturday’s were more entertaining and at least we were left guessing somewhat heading into a race: was the qualifying pace pace or was it just a banzai run? At least it’s not a forgone conclusion that a Mercedes was going to win. At least fans weren’t resigned to their fate before lights out…

And if the top teams have to come through the field somewhat to get to where their pace is reflective of, at least there’s a few more overtakes to be had than there would be otherwise and, who knows, maybe some drama is created by an accident coming through the field?

Alternatively, refuelling adds such a dynamic on the pit-wall, and some great races have been decided in such a manner. The 2004 French Grand Prix comes to mind, where Michael Schumacher used a 4-stop strategy to beat Fernando Alonso to victory at Magny-Cours.

One of my personal favourites was the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix, the one race where Ferrari and Michael Schumacher were on the pace in what was a dismal 2005 for the Scuderia, with McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen using a 3-stop strategy to beat Schumacher to victory on the day.

It also means drivers can push if they know they’re coming in — they don’t have to save massive amounts of fuel and tyres if they’re coming in multiple times. One of the gripes F1 drivers have is the excessive fuel saving and tyre saving — refuelling helps take some of that away.

Again with these current Pirelli tyres, F1 should absolutely consider the return of refuelling. It adds more danger to the pit-crews, yes, and it would mean the sub-2 second pitstops are a thing of the past, but needs must if F1 wants to improve their product. And besides, if anyone is in F1 because it’s a safe place to be, then I’m not sure why they’re there.

While refuelling doesn’t solve all of F1’s problems, it certainly would help some. On its own, refuelling does not solve the competitive balance issue, but in conjunction with the 2021 regulation changes where the ultimate goal is to balance the field, I think it would help diversify the strategies and, thus, create better races and racing which is what Liberty have been wanting to do since the day they took over F1.

 

 

 

 

 

Red Bull’s Driver Conundrum – Today and Tomorrow

Image: @redbullracing

From 2016 to 2018, Red Bull has been been able to make a legitimate case to make when they say ‘We have the best driver lineup on the grid with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.’

Sure, perhaps for some Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in 2016 may have topped that fresh lineup — with Verstappen obviously joining Red Bull after Russia in 2016 — but certainly for 2017 and 2018 Red Bull certainly boasted the best driver lineup on the grid in Ricciardo and Verstappen.

But even when that partnership was beginning to come under threat in 2017 — when rumours of Verstappen possibly leaving came to the fore — Red Bull still had options available to them in the event Verstappen left.

Carlos Sainz was still part of the Red Bull programme driving for Toro Rosso at the time and the highly rated Pierre Gasly was a potential option down the road having won the final GP2 title in 2016 before it became F2.

But those fears were allayed as Verstappen penned a lucrative new deal to stay with Red Bull until the end of 2020. Red Bull enjoyed a solid 2017 season with Ricciardo triumphing amidst the madness of Azerbaijan but saw much more convincing victories in Malaysia and Mexico, both won by Verstappen.

The partnership again came under threat in 2018 as Ricciardo entered the final year of his contract, with possible openings at Mercedes and Ferrari in the offing amidst the uncertain futures of Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.

But similar to 2017, Red Bull were still in good shape should Ricciardo choose to leave.

Carlos Sainz had been loaned to Renault in 2017 as part of an agreement in the whole McLaren-Renault-Toro Rosso-Honda deal that saw McLaren ditch Honda for Renault, with Honda heading to Toro Rosso, Sainz heading to Renault for 2018 (which was eventually brought forward to the remainder of 2017).

It was made very clear at the time that Sainz — who was ready for something larger than Toro Rosso after nearly four seasons — was on loan from Red Bull, so the cards were still in Red Bull’s hands when it came to his future and provided an insurance policy should Ricciardo leave.

Sainz’s departure at Toro Rosso allowed Red Bull to finally bring Pierre Gasly to F1 in late 2017, and after some very average showings in the latter stages of 2017 Gasly turned heads with his 4th place finish in Bahrain in 2018 before enjoying a successful first full season in F1.

When the shock decision from Ricciardo to join Renault for 2019 was announced, Red Bull were still in a good place with both Sainz and Gasly to choose from as well as highly rated youngster Dan Ticktum waiting in the wings for a Toro Rosso drive — all three gave Red Bull the choice to choose from within their own programme, which is what Red Bull prefer to do and were always going to do for their 2019 vacancy (as fun as Fernando Alonso would’ve been in that car).

While Sainz had proven himself as an F1 mainstay in his first four seasons, Gasly had shown superstar potential in his first full season, regularly outperforming what his car was capable of and in some cases beyond that — finishing 4th in Bahrain, 7th in Monaco and 6th in Hungary to name a few.

While Sainz had more experience than Gasly, that was exactly what separated his case from Gasly’s for the Red Bull drive: experience, history.

Having entered F1 together back in 2015 with Toro Rosso, the whispers were that Helmut Marko was reluctant to pair Verstappen and Sainz together again at Red Bull after their difficulties as teammates at Toro Rosso — Sainz’s history playing to Gasly’s advantage — i.e. Gasly’s lack of history.

In the end, Red Bull chose Gasly for their 2019 vacancy.

A supposed (and I want to emphasise that word) clause in Sainz’s contract with Red Bull that stated that if Sainz was not racing with Red Bull by 2019, he would be free to choose his own team. With Red Bull wanting to block Sainz’s permanent move to Renault — the French outfit enduring very tense relations with Red Bull — it not only allowed Renault to sneak Ricciardo away from under Red Bull’s nose but left Sainz without a seat for 2019, Ricciardo replacing Sainz and Red Bull obviously choosing Gasly for its vacancy. This left Sainz free to pursue the vacant McLaren drive left by Alonso and with confirmation of that deal it freed Sainz from the Red Bull programme.

So, Sainz was gone but Red Bull had the promising Gasly to look forward to pairing with Max Verstappen in 2019 with new Honda engines and with Dan Ticktum coming along, things seemed to be progressing at Red Bull. There were no regrets, not from Red Bull and not from Sainz, who was indebted to Red Bull for his career.

But Red Bull suffered a minor setback.

Ticktum’s road to F1 was proving to be tricky, with the Englishman finding difficulty  acquiring a super licence, with matters not being helped after he intentionally took another driver out in a junior category race in 2015.

After recovering from that after being handed a two-year race-ban (with the second year being a suspended ban), Ticktum found himself leading the Formula 3 championship in 2018 but saw his title challenge slip into Mick Schumacher’s hands, with the German eventually winning the title and securing his road to Formula 2 at the expense of Ticktum’s hopes for a super licence.

It all ultimately meant that Red Bull turned to Alex Albon to fill one of their Toro Rosso vacancies for 2019, which seemed less than ideal to Red Bull at the time, who were very high on Ticktum and wanted him in an F1 car, their hopes of having him participate in mid-season testing in 2018 shot down by the FIA.

Still, plenty of reason for optimism ahead of 2019 despite that minor setback — new promising driver in Pierre Gasly, new Honda engines…

There were high hopes for 2019.

But things…haven’t gone according to plan.  Well, they have from Max Verstappen’s side.

While Red Bull are further from Ferrari and Mercedes than they would like to be, the Dutchman has consistently punched above his car’s weight and has been mixing it up with the Ferraris are more than a few occasions this season, recently taking a stunning victory at Austria.

Pierre Gasly…hasn’t enjoyed the same success.

Gasly has been consistently a long way off of Verstappen’s pace and has often found himself either eliminated in Q2 or Red Bull having to use the soft tyres (and probably their Q3 party modes in other instances I’m sure, which they would never admit) to advance to Q3 whenever the top two teams and Verstappen have used mediums to advance to Q3.

In the races themselves, again, Gasly has been nowhere — not only finishing behind his teammate in every race they have finished so far this season, but has found himself at times behind the likes of the McLaren’s, Renault’s, Sergio Perez and even Dany Kvyat’s Toro Rosso in Australia. Not all at once, mind you…he’s not that bad.

Now, to be fair, Gasly had a few good races — well, two, really, come to mind. He finished 5th at Monaco and was on course for a good result in Azerbaijan before retiring with a mechanical issue.

Most recently in Austria, Gasly looked like he was on the pace in practice, and though, it was only in practice, he showed signs maybe that this weekend was going to be the one where he could at least finish 6th again.

In other words, back where he always should’ve been.

But when it came to getting the job done in qualifying, with P5 up for grabs with Sebastian Vettel’s problems in Q3 and with everyone running on the same soft compound, Gasly qualified P9 — last in Q3 since Vettel never got to set a time — behind Lando Norris, both Alfas and Kevin Magnussen.

And when the race came and Verstappen’s awful start allowed Gasly to pass his teammate on lap 1. This was, of course, very temporary and Verstappen quickly re-passed him and then only went and won the race, lapping Gasly in the process in what was, emphatically, the worst result of Gasly’s disastrous season so far — a lap down behind the race-winner (that wasn’t a first for Gasly this season) but his teammate in the same breath.

Austria is a short track, mind you, but there is no excuse for such a result.

Why Gasly has struggled so much is hard to say but what’s easier and fair to say is that Gasly has, so far, failed to live up to expectations after his stellar 2018. In fact, there probably hasn’t been a disappointment bigger than Gasly (well, besides maybe Mercedes having dominating again at the front).

If this was 2016 and there was a Max Verstappen or a Carlos Sainz waiting in the wings at Toro Rosso, Gasly might have lost his seat already. It certainly took a run of form that wasn’t nearly as bad for Daniil Kvyat to lose his seat after four races, despite a podium at China. Though, to be fair, Kvyat already had a full season where he found himself behind his teammate too.

But between having no ready replacements at Toro Rosso — and Red Bull extending some grace — it seems Red Bull are going to continue with Gasly, at least for the moment and for 2019.

But should he continue on as he has all season so far and shows no sign of picking up the P6’s that he should be collecting at the very least (let alone ever hoping to challenge Verstappen), Gasly is going to leave Red Bull with no choice other than to replace him, whether it’s at the end of 2019 or a situation similar to Kvyat where a quick change occurs after a few races into 2020 should things not go to plan.

But the question would be ‘with who?’

Carlos Sainz is no longer an option, enjoying a fine season with McLaren so far (while enjoying some of the company perks along the way), having finished ahead of Gasly on multiple occasions this season despite the McLaren being slower than the Red Bull on outright pace.

Incidentally, can you imagine how Red Bull’s season would be going if Sainz was in that car instead of Gasly from the start? I’m not saying Sainz is banging through the field to take the win at Austria or beating Verstappen, but you’d imagine he’s certainly finishing 6th at the very, very least. With Verstappen ahead of both Ferraris in the championship standings after Austria, it begs the question how close could Red Bull be to Ferrari in the constructors standings if they had a competent driver in their second car?

Anyways, Sainz is no longer an option for Red Bull — the best option Red Bull would’ve had but they made their choice. Hindsight is 20-20 but alas…

Both Toro Rosso drivers are enjoying solid seasons — despite the car sliding back on the grid somewhat of late — but do Red Bull really roll the dice with Kvyat again? I like Kvyat but long term in the Red Bull? I’m not sure Red Bull goes down that road again.

Alex Albon has looked good in his rookie season — better than I think pretty anyone could have expected — but Red Bull are surely going to be wary with rushing into early promotions. In both previous examples their hands were forced as Kvyat and Gasly were probably promoted a little sooner than planned as both Vettel and Ricciardo surprised Red Bull with their exits.

Gasly has clearly shown he isn’t ready for the big-time right now, and him falling flat on his face so far can’t have inspired any confidence for Red Bull to just replace him with Albon after one season of experience. They could, but having seen how this Gasly experiment has gone so far, it surely doesn’t help decision making

I’m not saying Albon couldn’t go in to Red Bull after one season and perform, just that Red Bull will surely be wary, especially seeing Gasly just slide. So, perhaps Albon could be an option down the line if he continues to impress but perhaps not as soon as next season? If Gasly is kept for 2020 but replaced after a tough start, Albon would have similar experience as Verstappen did when he made his jump to Red Bull in 2016, which is an interesting thought.

Dan Ticktum’s future as a Red Bull driver has also seemingly gone down the drain as he was released from the Red Bull Driver Programme in late June, having lost his backing for his Super Formula drive where had been hoping to earn the final few points he needed for his super licence.

So, that avenue for the future is now seemingly gone with Ticktum’s place in the Red Bull programme seemingly now taken by Pato O’Ward — in addition to O’Ward taking over Ticktum’s Super Formula seat, who recently debuted in Formula 2 as a one-off and is making more and more noise within the Red Bull academy.

Red Bull had been keen to get Ticktum into F1 but after a poor start to his Super Formula season, maybe saw too much of a hurdle for him to acquire his super licence? Either way, they have to take a step backwards with driver readiness with, O’Ward seems to be a ways off of Formula 1 — we’ll see what his Formula 2 situation is later this season, if he participates any other events this season.

So, where do Red Bull go from here?

Their prospects from within maybe aren’t viable in short-term. Albon is probably the closest thing to being ready but maybe not as soon as 2020.

If Red Bull wanted to do go in a different route for the future, they could perhaps groom Nobahru Matsushita — Honda’s junior driver (aged 25) in Formula 2, recently taking a great race win in Austria — for a Toro Rosso drive, and maybe see how that goes? Certainly an interesting option — and that link now exists between Red Bull-Toro Rosso-Honda — but not one that solves Red Bull’s problems today…or for 2020.

Again with Kvyat, is that something Red Bull want to go with again? He’s only 25 years old with plenty of F1 experience, but do Red Bull roll the dice with him again?

Maybe Gasly can turn it around, whether it’s this year at Red Bull or back at Toro Rosso if he is sent back. For all Gasly’s faults this season, he’s still young. There’s always time to bounce-back, Daniil Kvyat is showing that — even after a year’s absence.

Red Bull’s best option both short and long-term was Carlos Sainz, and I would be hesitant to say he’ll come running back to the Red Bull family — he’s very happy at McLaren, and why wouldn’t he be, especially with McLaren back on the rise.

So, the options within perhaps don’t suit for 2020 and Red Bull, generally speaking, don’t hire drivers externally — it’s obviously happened at Toro Rosso with Brendon Hartley (who had some previous ties with Red Bull) and Kvyat technically wasn’t part of the Red Bull programme when he was signed for Toro Rosso for 2019, but generally speaking it doesn’t really happen.

Mark Webber was the probably the last instance, and even then he had some history — racing for Jaguar, which later became Red Bull.

But they might have to go the external route this time around. And if they are going the external route, it makes sense for them to hire a driver who is a bit more experienced, a bit more short term if they want to either wait a bit on Gasly to return to what Red Bull signed in the first place/Albon or O’Ward down the line.

Nico Hulkenberg fits the bill perfectly — even if it’s just for a year or two until Albon/Gasly are ready. No one doubts Hulk’s abilities and there wouldn’t be a single person who wouldn’t be happy to see him in a car that can finally deliver him that elusive podium.

Valterri Bottas — a race winner — wouldn’t be an awful choice either should Mercedes decide they need Esteban Ocon back in F1/should they want to move on from Bottas. Unlikely but interesting to throw out there. Throw in Checo Perez too as another unlikely possibility.

If Red Bull decided to go somewhere in between mid/long term, (possibly preparing for a Verstappen exit), Kevin Magnussen would be a really interesting choice. It provides Red Bull with a good option to go with Verstappen right now and also leaves them in a decent spot should Verstappen leave and they promote Albon/Gasly to replace him.

Again, it’s worth saying that none of these are likely because Red Bull do not like going outside their walls if they can avoid it for drivers but their need may force them to… And it’s going to be fascinating if they do, who do they select?

Whatever Red Bull decide to do, their choice has been so much harder for themselves because they got caught up in one year of Pierre Gasly and forgot about the consistent, steady and quality performances over the last four years from Carlos Sainz — with multiple teams.

Four years is a large sample size — Sainz proved he belonged in Formula 1, that he deserved to stay not because he was part of someone’s programme but because he’s a damn good racing driver.

But look, it’s obviously worth saying that Gasly is even half the driver Red Bull chose to promote last year, their choice will be justified and everything I’ve mentioned above completely pointless…but that just hasn’t materialised yet with Gasly.

Christian Horner has been on record saying that they want to support Gasly and that there won’t be a change this year but you can tell that patience is wearing thin, and that was before Austria.

What Red Bull do with their second driver is a problem for them to think about in the short term, their long term future may also extend to their first driver too — Max Verstappen.

If Verstappen leaves after 2020 — and Gasly doesn’t recover/become the driver Red Bull hired him to become — Red Bull are in real danger, for the first time probably since 2008, of not having an elite driver partnership and this is something they need to be thinking about right now and thinking about hard, because 2021 is not far away.

O’Ward might become something and be ready by 2021 — for Toro Rosso at the very least — but outside of him and Albon, what do Red Bull do if Verstappen leaves? What is their driver future long term? What was once a nice clear reflection is now a murky labyrinth.

What if Gasly never becomes the driver Red Bull envision him to be? What if Verstappen, a super competitive driver, decides that he’s sick of not competing for titles, swaps Red Bull for Mercedes or Ferrari? Is Red Bull’s long-term driver future dependant on Alex Albon becoming a far better F1 driver anyone everyone could have ever anticipated? That’s a question that Red Bull certainly won’t have asked themselves in early 2018, when they had both Ricciardo and Verstappen, Pierre Gasly on the rise and Dan Ticktum — spoiled with choices in the present and the future.

They may be celebrating a fantastic victory at Austria but Red Bull have a lot of questions to ask themselves when it comes to their driver lineup for 2020, and possibly beyond…

 

F1 2019 Season Preview

Feature image: Twitter – @F1

It’s finally here, Formula 1 2019. It’s taken a long time to get here but we are here, the start of it all again.

And it promises to be a fascinating season in prospect, with the gap between the top three teams seemingly as tight as ever, if testing is to be believed (always a dangerous thing).

Let’s break this title down between the top three, the midfield and then those near the back. In the process, I’ll touch on the drivers and the such, before making a few predictions and the such.

We’ll have fun.

The Top Three

Everything in testing should be taken with (many) grains of salt but, listening and reading the thoughts of people — well-informed people — who were there at Barcelona and the experts that were there, it would seem that Ferrari are the early team to beat.

It’s tough to gauge Mercedes in testing because they generally stick to their own programme and tend not to really care about what anyone else is doing, but when you hear the quotes from the drivers being unhappy with the balance and Mercedes bringing a heavily revised car to Week 2 of testing and another revised car to Melbourne, it would seem to suggest they’re on the back-foot (something Lewis Hamilton reaffirmed on Thursday).

I do think Mercedes are closer than people think but if they haven’t fixed their balance issues, it’s going to be a difficult opening for them in Melbourne if they can’t get on top of that quickly.

Ferrari, in comparison, seemed pretty happy with testing — at least in Week 1, all smiles with Vettel and company, though, the second week wasn’t as good as the first, they still set the fastest lap in testing and, according to those who are in the know, Mercedes’ fastest lap of testing wasn’t a true reflection of the gap between the two teams — the lap times suggesting that things are closer than things would appear.

We’ll see what happens but the Scuderia look good.

Red Bull look really intriguing, they’re a team that could easily spring a surprise at Australia, and some think they could be right there with Mercedes.

It’s hard to say where they will fall, we didn’t really see their true pace during Test 2.

They always build good cars but have been left wanting in the power department since 2014. Now armed with Honda engines, they enjoyed good reliability (Pierre Gasly letting them down in Spain more so than Honda) and I think there’s some genuine optimism for the Red Bull outfit.

It’ll be one of two things for Red Bull — they’ll either spring the biggest surprise in the paddock if they can turn up quicker than Mercedes, or we’ll see how much sandbagging has actually taken place between Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull will, again, be a distant third.

We’ll see.

Out of the top three teams, only Mercedes retained their driver lineup of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.

Hamilton comes in as a five-time champion and coming off one of the most consistent seasons I’ve ever seen — I’d imagine he’s in a good place.

It’s a different story for Bottas, who — from race number one — I’d imagine will be under pressure. He’s technically out of contract at the end of this year and Esteban Ocon is lingering, waiting for a seat to present itself. F1’s infamous politics kept Ocon — a member of the Mercedes driver programme — out of a seat in 2019 but a repeat of last season for Bottas would surely result in a change of drivers for 2020.

Bottas was unlucky in many spots last year (Baku, France etc.) but he was poles apart from Hamilton when it counted. If he’s in the title hunt after seven, eight races, Mercedes will probably let them at it — as they’ve historically done when their two drivers have been in genuine contention for the title. But if Hamilton has a significant advantage — as he did last year — you can only see it swinging as it did last year with Mercedes giving their backing to Hamilton.

Bottas says he’s ready and raring to go but we’ll see how he responds in Australia — a track where, of course, he binned it in a major way in Q3.

At Ferrari, it’s a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as Kimi Raikkonen makes way for Charles Leclerc.

Where Mercedes let their cars race — for the most part — Ferrari have held preference in terms of drivers for a while now: it’s Sebastian Vettel > teammate.

Ferrari have been back and forth in their comments about letting the two race and whether Leclerc is a number two or not… It’s all words at Ferrari but until we see it in action for sure, nothing that has been said matters — that’s the reality of it.

If Leclerc gets off to the dream start and beats his teammate in Australia and is ahead of Vettel in the standings, say, after Spain, it’ll make for a fascinating situation at Maranello.

I ultimately think that Vettel’s savviness and experience will edge Leclerc in his first season at Ferrari, and I think this year could prove a learning experience for Leclerc about what it means to be a Ferrari driver, what it means to win races and it means to have every mistake/inconsistency scrutinised.

It’s a pressure he’s never faced before.

That’s not to say he can’t be in the hunt and take it to Vettel — I’m sure he will at times. But over 21 races, everything would point toward Vettel edging Leclerc — experience, savviness and his position in the team, which matters massively at a team like Ferrari.

Their car looks incredibly promising but the issue with Ferrari is their development throughout the season. They had to go backwards to go forwards, shedding the upgrades they had placed on the car from Singapore onwards off at USA and boom, the car was back at the front.

Mercedes, in recent history, have been able to out-develop Ferrari over the course of the season, so if Ferrari have an advantage they need to maximise it in the first few rounds before Mercedes bring those upgrades. Ferrari having their upgrades actually work would also help…

Red Bull officially made Max Verstappen their number one driver as Daniel Ricciardo moves on to Renault. Pierre Gasly arrives from Toro Rosso very much as a number two driver.

I’m not a huge Gasly fan and I think he will struggle against Verstappen.

That pairing is going to be explosive and not in a good way. Danny Ric was great for Max and those two personalities got on well even after a clash or two, they could at least exist but if Max and Gasly come together, you’d fear the worst, and I think those two aren’t going to like each other and it’s not going to take long for that happen.

A personality clash waiting to happen.

Red Bull themselves are an interesting prospect. We have no idea what to expect other than they’ll probably be in the top three. After that, who knows? They do develop quite well historically, so if they’re close to Ferrari and Ferrari have another development disaster, it’s going to be interesting.

The Midfield

The midfield battle looks as tight as ever, and it’s hard to say who’s leading the way.

It’s very unpredictable.

McLaren went for some headline laps in testing, so it’s hard to say where they’re at whereas Racing Point’s car in testing is going to be very different to one we see at Australia — so it’s tough to say where those two teams will figure amongst the pack.

Haas had a mixed winter but whispers are they’re looking decent but I’d imagine the top two in the midfield will come between Renault and I think Alfa Romeo could be in the mix. Their front wing design is one that everyone is talking about and I think they could easily mix it up with Haas and maybe Renault but I’m a bit skeptical about that one.

Toro Rosso, I’d imagine, will be in the lower part of the midfield but there’s optimism for them after a strong testing. Perhaps they could be duking it out with McLaren, we’ll see.

Speakng of, McLaren is where arguably the most change has occurred as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne exit, and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris come in. Sainz will be fine, he’ll do well. I don’t think there’s any need to worry there. It’s Norris where the unpredictability lies. I like Norris’ superstar potential. I think his ceiling is higher than George Russell’s but I think his floor is lower.

What I mean by that is I think there’s a greater potential for stardom in Norris but more chance of Norris being a bust. There’ll be ups and downs for Norris in his rookie season but I think he’ll be OK — I do expect Sainz to better him in his rookie season though.

Alfa Romeo have also changed their lineup, replacing the outgoing Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi — old and young. Raikkonen is a great addition and I think he’s going to enjoy a somewhat resurgent season, even though I thought he had a good season last year. But he’s free of Ferrari. Free of ‘number two status’, free of the awful strategies Ferrari put him on to help Vettel/hamper Mercedes. As a team leader, I think Raikkonen will have a strong season.

Giovinazzi is already under pressure due to his past. He filled in in 2017 for the injured Pascal Wehrlein and binned it on both occasions when it mattered, as well as binning it in Hungary too in a test with Haas. He’s got to build some consistency and I have no idea what to expect.

All change at Toro Rosso too, as Daniil Kvyat returns and Alex Albon is promoted from F2. I like Kvyat and I think he can have a bounce-back season but I think Albon has a tough season ahead and, with the exception of perhaps Lance Stroll, there’s a chance Albon is the worst driver on the grid — never even setting foot in an F1 car until testing.

Speaking of Lance Stroll, he joins the newly named Racing Point team alongside Perez. Perez should smoke him, I don’t believe in Stroll at all but let’s see. Their car is going to be interesting, let’s see where they’re at with this new car in Australia, again, vastly different from the one we saw in Spain.

Haas were one of the few teams to stick with their driver lineup, in fact, the only Haas and Mercedes are the only teams to retain their lineups in 2019 with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is in good shape but there’s a lot of pressure on Grosjean after his mixed 2018. He’s a good driver, for sure, but is prone to mistakes so if he can iron those out, he should have a good year because the car I think could be promising out of the box.

Renault are an intriguing prospect and I think boast one of the better lineups in Nico Hulkenburg and Daniel Ricciardo.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Hulkenburg.

Many thought (myself not included) that Sainz would come and slap Hulkenburg but it never happened, Nico acquitting himself very well in that battle, besting Sainz in the end. But Ricciardo will be a different beast. As long as he can match, even if he finishes a few point behind Ricciardo (reliability depending, of course), that’s a successful season for Hulk.

In terms of Renault themselves, even if they don’t start out fourth quickest, I thoroughly expect them to end fourth quickest. How close can they get to the top three? I think they’ll be closer but not close enough to compete for podiums on raw pace.

The Rear

Williams, I’m afraid, look a long way off everyone else after their disastrous start, missing the majority of the first test in Spain.

Robert Kubica returning to F1 is a great story but it’s probably not going to be a great year for him in terms of the machinery he has underneath him to work with — he already seemed fed up with the car in Spain in testing. It might be tough to measure Kubica’s season against rookie George Russell, given that Russell, well, is a rookie.

If Russell completely out-paces him, it’s going to be tough to say whether Russell is legit or if coming back to F1 was one step too many for Kubica, faced with physical limitations no other driver has to deal with after his rallying accident in 2011.

I’m hopeful Williams will be better than advertised but it’s not looking good. The car looks great in terms of its livery but in terms of performance… Yeah… Sorry.

Awards/Predictions

Let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions.

Driver’s Champion: Sebastian Vettel

Constructors’ Champion: Ferrari

Best of the Rest: Renault

Surprise of the Season: Alfa Romeo

Best Rookie: Lando Norris

Most Improved: Daniil Kvyat

Most Disappointment Driver: Pierre Gasly

Most Disappointing Team: Williams

Best Livery: Ferrari, their matte finish and the added black really stand out. What a gorgeous car.

Worst Livery: Racing Point. I like the pink but the blue they added is in the wrong places, and it just doesn’t look great.

Best Helmet:

The most important one of the lot. Here are the helmets, put together fantastically by Racefans.net:

racefansdotnet-f1-drivers-helmets-2019.jpg

Lewis Hamilton’s is great this year, Lando Norris’ is great too as is Charles Leclerc’s.

I’ll say Danny Ric though — just way off the beaten path but looks fantastic — the most wild one out there.

Worst Helmet: Pierre Gasly. Hands down. Awful. There’s 1000 better ways to incorporate the French flag in your helmet, Romain Grosjean does a good job if it but this is awful…


I can’t wait for it to all unfold.

F1 2019 promises to be the most exciting season in recent memory. May she live to the hype.

Let’s go.

Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

Sunday afternoon provided another exciting Grand Prix in 2018, as a tight affair between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen was ultimately decided by tyre wear and Mercedes’ great tactics — positioning the yet-to-stop Valterri Bottas in front of Raikkonen to draw Hamilton close — with Hamilton emerging as the victor and extended his championship lead to 30 points over Sebastian Vettel.

For Hamilton’s title rival, Vettel, his P4 required a recovery drive after a spin on lap 1 following contact with Lewis Hamilton heading into the second chicane sent him to the back of the grid.

The stewards ultimately deemed this a racing incident, but really this is Vettel’s fault and he rightly bore the brunt of the outcome as he spun around. Hamilton left him more than enough room and Vettel should’ve gotten out of it — I just think Vettel didn’t want to accept that Hamilton had just brilliantly done him around the outside and expected Hamilton to just get out of the way? Like that was going to happen…

Whether Vettel had the pace to win in Monza, whether his presence up front may have actually helped Ferrari win the race we’ll never know, but what do we do know is that it was another crucial swing in the championship as Hamilton extended his lead to 30 points over his German rival.

Vettel and Hamilton have shared the grid since 2007 and have both enjoyed driving title-winning cars, but only in 2017 did the two finally share a title-contending car at the same time and lock horns together as the two title favourites (2010 doesn’t really count, that was a Vettel-Webber-Alonso title showdown. Hamilton was just on the fringes come showdown). In these two years where Formula 1’s selling point has been ‘Hamilton vs. Vettel’, what has become abundantly clear is the consistency of Hamilton across an entire season compared to Vettel, who has faltered under the pressure with the Italian Grand Prix proving to be another blot for the German’s copybook in his quest to become the first Ferrari champion since 2007.

With this latest knock in the German’s title challenge, the question that should be arising about now: is Vettel’s legacy going to be altered as a result of the outcomes of his two title battles against Lewis Hamilton?

Let’s go over it so far…

Vettel has enjoyed a glittering career in which he has won four titles and amassed over 50 grand prix victories.

He quickly rose from the ranks of Toro Rosso to replace the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and continued his rise as one of Formula 1’s hottest new properties as he secured the first win for Red Bull in China.

In 2010 he went all the way as he won the title at the final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, pipping Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber to the throne and claim the honour of youngest World Champion.

As Vettel made history, Red Bull had quickly developed a car that was the class of the field. By the end of 2009, it was the quickest car on the grid as Red Bull won the final three races of 2009.

In 2010, Ferrari and McLaren arrived with much improved cars from their 2009 counterparts — enabling Alonso, Hamilton and Jenson Button to win races — but the superiority eventually swung back to Red Bull, who won 9 of the 19 races in 2010.

By Abu Dhabi, the McLaren’s of Hamilton and Button had no chance of winning the title (Hamilton technically could have but it was never going to happen) and Alonso was sucking absolutely everything that Ferrari had to offer — it was clearly the worse car between itself and the Red Bull.

In 2011, Red Bull pressed their advantage right from the off as the Austrian outfit clearly had the best package right from the get-go as Vettel tore away to win five of the first six races. The respective packages from McLaren and Ferrari wasn’t up to snuff over the course of the season to contend with the Red Bulls, leaving Hamilton, Button and Alonso with no chance of contending for the title. The sister Red Bull in the hands of Mark Webber fared no better than Alonso, Button or Hamilton. By his own admission in his book, after his best title opportunity in 2010 slipped away, Webber admitted the “stuffing was knocked out of him”. He had prepared to retire after he had won the title but it didn’t happen, and Webber was on the decline in his career — no match for Vettel. In the end, it was a very easy title for Vettel to claim — which he did by round 15 of 19 in Japan — in what was easily the best car on the grid.

In 2012, again, the Red Bull proved to be the best car on the grid with Alonso, incredibly, willing his Ferrari to a title challenge despite winning just three races and winning none of them from Round 10 onwards — the infamous 2010 German Grand Prix where Ferrari enforced team orders, forcing Felipe Massa to move aside for Alonso. It took until the final round again but Vettel ultimately prevailed as he always should have given his machinery — his third world title coming a lot closer than it really should have.

And for the last of Vettel’s current four titles, 2013 was an absolute landslide as he won 12 races, including the last nine in a row, to win by 157 points over Alonso in second — the Red Bull as dominant as it’s ever been in the final year of the V8 era.

At the point of 2013, Vettel has had the dream career powered by a great car which had been the class of the field every year since the end of 2009.

Of course, Vettel’s unrelenting pace, in addition to a dream car, was unquestionable. His place as one of Formula 1’s finest drivers ever was, arguably, secured at the end of 2013 as he scured his fourth title in a row.

Anything that came after only cemented it…or did it?

Since 2014 began, Vettel hasn’t had everything his way. He went winless in 2014 as his teammate Daniel Ricciardo won three races before moving to Ferrari for the 2015 season, replacing Alonso. In his first two years with the Scuderia, Vettel didn’t have a title-winning car underneath him as Mercedes continued their domination in the V6 era.

In 2017, things changed.

After a regulation reshuffle, Ferrari finally produced a car in which the accomplished Vettel could finally mount a challenge to Lewis Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ throne, and so Vettel was thrust into the title fight.

When you’re in a title challenge, the microscope is incredibly fine. If there’s a fault in you it will be found out, especially when your opponent is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

The 2017 Ferrari was equally as capable of winning the 2017 driver’s title as the Mercedes but its challenge was let down by two things. One was the Ferrari’s reliability, which gave up the ghost in Japan (forcing Vettel to retire in the early stages) and Malaysia, where Vettel was also forced to start from the back of the grid after an engine issue.

The second reason why Vettel’s title quest came up short was that Vettel cracked in key moments whereas Hamilton did not.

At Round No. 8 in Baku, Vettel saw red as he intentionally drove alongside and then into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes after Vettel adjudged the Brit to brake-check him under the safety car, leading to some damage to Vettel’s front wing.

Vettel was handed a 10 second stop-go penalty for his actions, which ultimately cost him victory after Hamilton was forced to pit after his head-rest became loose, requiring a replacement. Vettel ultimately finished fourth ahead of Hamilton in fifth but needlessly threw away the victory, and 13 points were lost that day on account on his own recklessness…

Arguably the pinnacle moment of the entire 2017 season (certainly an iconic one) ,and the moment that the championship tide turned for good, came that Singapore.

Having stuck his Ferrari on pole, Vettel’s getaway off the line in the wet was slow, with both Max Verstappen and Raikkonen both enjoying much better starts. Raikkonen hugged the wall as he went to attack Verstappen while Vettel — with all the track to his right available to him — veered to the left to cover off his threats and pinched Verstappen in between the two Ferraris, which ended up in a massive crash and all three were forced to retire, but not before Vettel had a second off as he lost the back-end and made contact with the wall.

The stewards decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Verstappen isn’t making contact with Raikkonen until Vettel comes over, which left Verstappen between a rock and a hard place. But the ultimate backshot was that Hamilton ended up winning the race — at a track Mercedes were genuinely struggling and Ferrari thriving — and extended his championship lead from 3 points to 28 points.

It marked the beginning of the end of Vettel’s title challenge…

After the reliability issues of Malaysia and Japan, Hamilton beat Vettel to victory in USA and had the chance to clinch the title at the next round in Mexico.

Having qualified on pole, Vettel faced pressure from Verstappen heading into Turn 1. Verstappen hangs his car around the outside through Turn 1 and is left very little room by Vettel. The two make tyre-to-tyre contact before Turn 2, before Verstappen claims the corner and makes slight contact with Vettel’s wing as they head into Turn 3. Meanwhile, Hamilton switches back on Vettel heading into Turn 2 and gets himself ahead of his rival. Vettel then makes contact with Hamilton’s rear tyre, damaging his own wing and giving Hamilton a puncture. After being forced to pit, both cars fought through the field in recovery drives but it wasn’t enough for Vettel to deny Hamilton his fourth world title.

In the race that would decide the title, Vettel not only lost a position off the line, squeezed another car off of the track limits, he has also made contact with his main championship rival in an incident that probably could’ve been avoided. Some believe that Vettel knew exactly what he was doing when he made contact with Hamilton…

If it was intentional, it didn’t pay off as Hamilton secured his fourth world title and Vettel is left to reflect on what could’ve been…

Ultimately, Vettel had the machinery to beat Hamilton in 2017. Yes reliability played its part in Malaysia and Japan but the Ferrari had the potential to win the title on pace — those cars were incredibly close, with perhaps a slight edge going toward Mercedes ultimately in terms of performance but it was marginal.

But in the end, over the course of the 20-race season, Vettel made more mistakes than Hamilton. Hamilton — who is used to facing incredible pressure in intense title fights with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg in particular — didn’t falter under the pressure, didn’t make mistakes as Vettel did and remained calm while Vettel made mistakes and lost his cool in Baku.

When the big moments came, Hamilton seized them and Vettel faltered.

While 2017 was a missed opportunity for Vettel and Ferrari, 2018 held a lot of promise, with Ferrari building on their 2017 resurgence.

Though Ferrari won the first two races, the general feeling was that Mercedes still held the quicker car but this advantage wouldn’t last for long as Ferrari made significant engine gains. The general feeling by Canada was that Ferrari now had the quicker car.

Heading into the French Grand Prix, Vettel led the championship by a single point after his win in Canada. The weekend not only represented F1’s first return to France in 10 years but the first major moment in terms of the championship.

Heading into Turn 1, Vettel — having qualified behind both Mercedes — locks up and makes contact with Valterri Bottas, resulting in a puncture for Bottas (as well as damage to the rear of the car and leaving him in last place for good measure) and a new wing required for Vettel. Hamilton would go on to secure an easy win, uncontested from his teammate and his title rival Vettel (who finished in 5th), and take the lead of the championship by 14 points.

A pretty major, unforced error from Vettel who received a five second penalty for the accident, ruined the race of Valterri Bottas and ruined his own race single-handedly, while handing the championship lead to Hamilton.

Vettel was handed a reprieve for his error in France as Hamilton suffered a mechanical fault in Austria while Vettel finished third, allowing Vettel to re-take the championship lead before extending it further to eight points in Britain after a brilliant victory at Silverstone.

The most pivotal moment of the season (at least as of right now) came in Germany…

Having absolutely smashed his way to pole position at his home grand prix (with a huge opportunity to extend his lead after a failure for Hamilton is qualifying meant he started from P14), Vettel comfortably led the first part of the race before making his pitstop on lap 26. Having got the jump on his teammate having stopped earlier, Kimi Raikkonen was ordered to move aside for Vettel as the rain loomed in the air. On Lap 44 the rain arrived and then on Lap 52, arguably the most important moment of the whole season arrived.

Leading the race, Vettel lost control as he made his way through the beginning of the stadium section and helplessly skidded into the gravel, into the barrier and out of the race, with German admitting afterwards he was on the brakes too late.

Vettel sounded extremely upset over team radio and sounded like a man who knew he had made a catastrophic error… An error that has probably cost him the world title…

It was the same conditions for everyone out there (though, perhaps a tad different for Pierre Gasly, who Toro Rosso incredibly sent out on full wets for a period) but ultimately it was only Vettel who fell victim to the conditions and retired as a result.

Meanwhile Hamilton (though in controversial circumstances after a shady excursion between the pitlane and the track) recovered to win the race and retake the championship lead by 17 points.

Even if Hamilton had finished 2nd behind Vettel in 1st, Vettel would’ve extended his lead to 15 points. Instead, it’s a DNF and Hamilton claims victory — a 32 point swing in favour of Hamilton. Instead of Vettel picking up the full 25 points and extending his lead into double figures, it’s Hamilton who takes the double-digit lead.

When the rain came again in Hungary on Saturday, it was Mercedes who triumphed over Ferrari, leaving Hamilton on pole on a track where track position is everything. With Vettel out-of-place in fourth, he did well to salvage second on race-day, but was powerless to prevent Hamilton from winning — as the German struggled behind the sister Merc of Bottas after a poor pitstop from Ferrari left him behind the Finn — and powerless to prevent Hamilton extending the championship lead to 24 points heading into the summer break.

With it all to do after the summer break, Vettel was able to strike-back in a statement win at Spa as Ferrari left Hamilton and Mercedes trailing in their dust, reducing the Hamilton’s gap to 17 points.

But just when momentum seemed to be with Vettel again, it slipped away.

Already disgruntled over how qualifying went at the Italian Grand Prix, Vettel — starting P2, ahead of Hamilton — was unable to get a move done on teammate Raikkonen heading into Turn 1. On the run down to the second chicane, Vettel is off the racing line on the left-hand side of the track as he tries to find a way by Raikkonen. Under braking, an opportunity opens for Hamilton around the outside. Hamilton’s overtake is delivered to perfection, clean around the outside whilst leaving Vettel fair space. But Vettel didn’t apply enough steering lock heading out of the corner, didn’t leave enough space for the second part of the chicane and makes contact with the Mercedes, spinning Vettel around and damaging part of his car.

The stewards, again, decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Vettel is to blame here. Hamilton left enough space and the move was done — that was Hamilton’s corner. Vettel could’ve avoided this incident if he had gotten out of it and applied more sterring lock instead of allowing his car to open up into Hamilton. Again, if Vettel expected Hamilton to get out of that move, he should’ve known better — he could’ve avoided this accident.

Hamilton would go on to win the race while Vettel finished fourth, the Brit extending his championship lead to what could be an insurmountable 30 points.

The error marks the third major error Vettel has made this season that has cost him significant points — France, Germany and now Italy. Against Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, such errors are punished and Hamilton has taken victory in each race Vettel has faltered in 2018.

Vettel isn’t out of this title race yet but it’s going to be extremely difficult to come back from here. Hamilton has, again, proven unshakable this season, and Vettel is going to have to hope Hamilton makes a mistake (which is very rare), or hope Mercedes’ bulletproof reliability is tested later in the year.

Again, in the key moments of the season, it’s Vettel who has made the mistakes and not Hamilton.

So, I come back to the question of which this piece is named after… Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst his title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Yes is the answer.

During his first four titles with Red Bull, and his battles squaring off against Fernando Alonso, Vettel clearly had the best car each and every time, he won the title. And that’s where things are different here. His car has been as good (2017) if not better (2018) than Hamilton’s.

In two title fights with equal cars this time around, there will be something said for Vettel’s inability to beat Hamilton over a season — that it was Vettel who made more mistakes over this two-year period than his title rival.

A huge knock some had on Vettel’s first four titles was ‘He had the best car, the best car by far’. There was no way to know for sure but what is for sure is that when Vettel has had more-or-less equal equipment than his title rival, he has fallen short.

Reliability issues near the end of 2017 were a factor for Vettel and Ferrari in their title quest but when people talk about 2017’s title and the key moments, Singapore and Baku (i.e. Vettel’s main errors) are the main talking points over the reliability issues in Malaysia or Japan. Japan was the exclamation point after the damage that Vettel had done in Singapore.

In 2018 so far, it’s actually been Hamilton who has been the recipient of reliability issues over Vettel, and Ferrari (marginally) have had the better car this year so far too. And yet, Hamilton is 30 points ahead…

It’s been Vettel’s errors/mistakes that have left him with everything to do with seven races to go and Hamilton’s consistency that has him in the ascendancy in the race for a fifth world title.

In two title battles with effectively equal cars, mistakes are going to define who wins the title and who doesn’t, and, consistently, it’s been Vettel who has slipped up and not Hamilton. It’s been Hamilton who has proven to be the more complete and consistent driver, not Vettel.

Hamilton and Vettel are two of the best drivers of their generation — entering Formula 1 at about the same time. Their careers will eventually end and they will draw comparisons for the rest of time, as two of the greatest drivers of their time. They’ve both enjoyed the best car in Formula 1 on their way to world championships — dominant cars at that — have taken many pole positions, many podiums, many wins and many world championships.

But, ultimately, in this two-year stretch where they’ve shared title winning cars and squared off for the world championship, it’s been Hamilton who has emerged on top and Vettel the one folding under pressure, Hamilton proving to be the model of consistency while Vettel continues to make mistakes.

And that is why Vettel’s legacy will be affected, unless he find away to overturn a 30 point deficit in the remaining seven races…

Ricciardo to Renault and a 2019 lineup prediction

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

We all knew the silly season was coming, but come on…

In what was expected to be a quiet week — with the F1 summer break upon us and the mid-season testing just finished with — Daniel Ricciardo and Renault blew everyone away on Friday afternoon when the rumours broke that the Red Bull driver had signed a contract with Renault for 2019 before the news was confirmed first by Red Bull (that he wouldn’t be with the team in 2019) and then by Renault who were obviously delighted to announce the deal.

This comes as a surprise for many reasons but mostly because, with Mercedes and Ferrari looking beyond Ricciardo for 2019, everything pointed to Danny Ric re-signing with the only F1 team he has considered home (I think that’s fair to say) — it really was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

Heck, even Ricciardo himself gave a pretty strong indication that he would re-signing with Red Bull, telling reporters in Hungary that his extension with Red Bull “…will definitely be done by Spa,” and that “It’s just a little bit of fine tuning here and there…it’s all good.”

A pretty strong indication, you’d have to say.,,

It’s unclear right now (writing this the day the news dropped) what has caused this 180 turn but I have a few theories…

Firstly, I don’t think Red Bull’s decision to switch to Honda engines from 2019 onwards played that much of a role. Since Canada, where they brought a significant upgrade, that Honda engine has shown some solid competitiveness — how much worse, if at all, is it to Renaut’s engine now in terms of both pace and reliability? A lot more Red Bull-Renault engines seemed to have given up the ghost more than Toro Rosso-Hondas this season…

I do think finance has played a big part here. Being a works team, it’s no secret that Renault have a bit more disposable income at their discretion than a team like, say, Williams or Force India. I also think it’s no secret that Ricciardo is underpaid across the board, not only for what he delivers on track but off of it too — an extremely marketable (and fantastic) personality with the team itself and sponsors. We don’t know what the figures from the respective Red Bull and Renault offers were, but you’d have to imagine that the Renault offer was significantly more handsome than what Red Bull might have offered — who, it’s well documented and mentioned by team principal Christian Horner, already pay a handsome amount to Max Verstappen…

Speaking of Max Verstappen, I’m sure he played a part in this decision too. Not so much to do with Max himself (they seem to get on pretty well) but everything surrounding him — the hype, the attention (media and fans alike), Max’s growing position in the team (you can definitely sense small elements of Vettel-Webber) and possibly his salary compared to Danny Ric for all we know.

The reasons I’m sure will become a bit more clear when Ricciardo and the F1 circus arrives at Spa near the end of August but the fact of the matter is the Aussie will be donning yellow next season, leaving the team that have nurtured his 7-year Formula 1 career that started in the HRT at Silverstone in 2011…

I think it’s an extremely bold move to Ricciardo to make when he had a very safe option in Red Bull on the table. For sure, Renault have made gains in each season since their return to F1 in 2016 but they still have a long way to go if they want to be challenging Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, and I don’t expect them to be challenging Red Bull next season either unless Renault make significant steps forward with their car and engine and Red Bull fall backwards with Honda power.

But there comes a time where every man has to make a change in his life, the bird must leave the nest at some stage in its life, and Ricciardo I think will do well with a new change of scenery — I’m just worried he’ll be fighting for P6’s, P7’s, P8’s next year instead of top 5 finishes, including race victories.

With this mega announcement, Renault have confirmed their driver lineup next year as Ricciardo joins Nico Hulkenburg, paving the way for what could be a lot of change down the paddock. The silly season had begun anyways but now it’s been ignited with jet propulsion.

And, really, it depends greatly on what Red Bull decide to do with their now vacant seat for 2019. A year ago, if this situation where Daniel Ricciardo leaves Red Bull had arisen, Carlos Sainz would’ve been the no-brainer to be his replacement. But it’s not that simple anymore.

Not only has Sainz, who has been in reported contract talks with McLaren, endured a difficult season at Renault (by his own standards) and has been outdriven by teammate Nico Hulkenburg, who many expected to trail the highly rated Spaniard, but the emergence of Toro Rosso starlet Pierre Gasly — who has performed brilliantly in his Toro Rosso this season, guiding his Honda-powered car to P4 in Bahrain and more recently P6 at Hungary — has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to Sainz and Red Bull.

But more than that, according to RaceFans.net (article linked above), Red Bull’s advisor and head of young driver programme, Helmut Marko, is reportedly against the idea of reuniting former Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Sainz again at Red Bull. With Red Bull already nailing their colours to the mast that is Max Verstappen, that would be a problem for Carlos Sainz and Red Bull, so it would seem unlikely based on that and performance this season compared to Gasly (which may or may not be a factor), that Sainz will reunite with Verstappen…

Sainz has been discussing a possible deal with McLaren, who rate Sainz highly.

“We think Carlos is an excellent racecar driver,” McLaren chief Zak Brown said. “Of course Carlos is potentially on the market, I don’t know his exact situation at Renault and Red Bull but he’s certainly someone as you go down the shortlist of drivers that you’d consider putting in your car.

“If he was free, and if we had a seat, he would certainly be high up the list for a racing seat.”

If it ends up that it’s not Ricciardo for Sainz in a like-for-like swap, it blows the driver market wide open.

Firstly, it opens up the Red Bull seat to, more than likely as discussed, Pierre Gasly. I’d love to see Fernando Alonso in that Red Bull seat but that seems unlikely given how Red Bull normally promote from within — usually from their young driver programme — and possibly Alonso’s relationship with Honda (given how he often threw Honda under the bus during their three-years together) could also play a part.

If Gasly is promoted, that opens up a spot at Toro Rosso and there could be two spots open should they decide not to bring back Brendon Hartley. I still think, if Alonso stays and Sainz joins his fellow Spaniard at Woking, McLaren and Toro Rosso could come into an agreement to send Lando Norris to Toro Rosso for a season/until Fernando Alonso calls time on his stellar Formula 1 career — especially if Norris wins F2, with F2 rules preventing champions from returning to the series. It’s beneficial for everyone: Toro Rosso get a quality driver for a year or two and McLaren have their man in an F1 seat (though the complications there are obvious, it’s just a theory of mine) And after that, I think Toro Rosso are better off sticking with Hartley over test driver Sean Galael… And as for the Red Bull junior driver programme, I think they’re a year or two from promoting another one to Toro Rosso.

At McLaren, there could easily be two spots going there too if the team elect not bring Stoffel Vandoorne back and Fernando Alonso either moves on to another F1 team or retires from F1. Vandoorne has had a terrible season compared to Alonso and he’s definitely under pressure for his F1 future. If Alonso retired, his McLaren career might be safe, depending on what McLaren choose to do with junior driver — and current F2 championship leader — Lando Norris and if they sign Carlos Sainz in the process.

With the Renault lineup confirmed, the Esteban Ocon-Renault rumours disappear immediately, leaving Ocon likely to spend another season with Force India. The other seat at Force India is up for debate, with Sergio Perez rumoured to be heading to Haas and who knows what else will go down there with the recent administration. And where Lance Stroll/Lawrence Stroll potentially figure into things remains to be seen in the midst of the administration/potential new ownership process.

I think it’s at this point in the driver market where the Ricciardo-Renault news begins to have less of an effect when it comes to drives. The likes of Ferrari, Mercedes Williams, Haas and Sauber…

With regards Perez, he’s rumoured for a seat at Haas, who don’t have anything lined up for 2019, though it’s safe to assume Kevin Magnussen has done enough to secure a seat. I personally believe Charles Leclerc would be best suited for that Haas spot rather than a promotion straight to the best seat F1 might have to offer if Ferrari move on from Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean is certainly still quick enough to be in F1 but his consistency has been left wanting this season — involved in a number of accidents/incidents this season.

Perez has also been rumoured to return to the team that gave him his first seat in 2011: Sauber. I’d be surprised if it happened but upon thinking about further, you can talk yourself into it. I certainly don’t expect rising star Charles Leclerc to remain with the Swiss outfit and I think time will finally expire on Marcus Ericcson’s Formula 1 career now that Sauber are in the points hunt again. With that said, and with Leclerc surely moving on, I expect another Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi to take his place. That 2nd spot next to Giovinazzi could end up being the lifeline of drivers such as maybe Stoffel Vandoorne, Romain Grosjean or even Kimi Raikkonen, whose name has been mentioned with Sauber…

At Williams, I’d imagine Sergey Sirotkin will remain but Lance Stroll’s spot is a bit more questionable with this Force India link. Force India, obviously, need the cash and Stroll offers that. If Stroll moves on, I’d expect Mercedes to use their connection with Williams to try push junior driver George Russell into an F1 seat at Grove. Junior driver Olly Rowland would be a good shout for the second drive as is test driver Robert Kubica.

For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas were signed to deals at Hockenheim, so nothing doing there.

And, lastly, at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is secured for another season whereas Kimi Raikkonen’s seat is not guaranteed. Raikkonen has had a strong 2018 (certainly better than his 2017 season) and I think has done enough to earn one more season with the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc is the obvious replacement — and he will be one day — but I think it’s a year or two too soon for him. There’s a lot of pressures and expectations that comes with a Ferrari drive and I think the experience at Haas for a year or two would help round him out, improve as a driver and help iron out some of those little errors he makes at times that may not mean much in a Sauber but mean everything in a Ferrari — the difference between pole position and the second row. Plus, it’s not in Ferrari’s nature to promote young drivers to their seats, especially ones heading into just their second season — they just don’t do it. So for those reasons, I’d be very surprised if Ferrari actually went through with it — it would be incredibly un-Ferrari.

So, with all of that said, I’m going to (horribly) predict the F1 2019 grid.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenburg

McLaren: Fernando Alonso & Carlos Sainz

Haas: Charles LeClerc & Kevin Magnussen

Force India: Esteban Ocon & Lance Stroll

Toro Rosso: Lando Norris & Brendan Hartley

Sauber: Sergio Perez & Antonio Giovinazzi

Williams: Sergey Sirotkin & Robert Kubica

Should be fun to see how wrong I am, but hey…always fun.

Winners and losers on Renault, McLaren, Honda and Red Bull agreement

Image: Sutton Images 

On Saturday 15th of September it was announced that the multi-team deal between Renault, Red Bull/Toro Rosso, McLaren and engine providers Honda was done. Here’s the lowdown:

Renault get: Carlos Sainz on a years loan from Red Bull

McLaren get: Renault engines from 2018

Toro Rosso get: Honda engines from 2018

So, who won in this flurry of activity?

McLaren (for now)

We’ll start with McLaren, the reason this deal happened in the first place.

They’re finally free of Honda and, with a Renault engine for 2018, might stand a chance of returning to where they belong.

They had to act because everyone was losing in this situation because of Honda’s poor performance: the team, sponsors, the fans and, of course, the drivers. The move also all but ensures that Fernando Alonso hangs around for at least one more season at Woking, ensuring that a world-class driver remains with the team.

There is an issue though. Sure, Honda are gone from the lives of McLaren, but how far will Renault push McLaren? Will that gap to Mercedes and Ferrari ever close up before the new engine regulations expected for 2021? How much happier will they be?

Time will tell.

Red Bull

Red Bull are also winners but not from an engine point of view. Sure, having Honda supply Toro Rosso keeps Red Bull’s options open but from what Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hinted at the end of FP1 that Red Bull could be running Aston Martin engines in 2019.

No, Red Bull are winners from a drivers perspective.

They haven’t lost Carlos Sainz in all of this — he’s loaned to Renault for a year. This is huge for Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen can both hit the driver market for the 2019 season and, if rumblings are to be believed, both drivers are considering leaving — both have eluded to wanting a race winning car and Red Bull haven’t been providing that. Should one, or both of Ricciardo or Verstappen leave, Red Bull could slot Carlos Sainz into the Red Bull, something Sainz has always wanted to do.

The idea of loaning Sainz was an excellent idea and keeps at least one ace card in Red Bull’s driver deck for 2019 should things go wrong with either Ricciardo or Verstappen.

Renault (at least for 2018)

Renault are winners because they now boast a very interesting driver lineup for 2018 with Carlos Sainz joining up with Nico Hulkenburg.

While this is a great lineup to have for 2018, it might only be for that — 2018.

Sainz is loaned from Red Bull and who knows what’s going to happen with Ricciardo and Verstappen from 2019 onwards. What happens at Red Bull will be integral to Renault’s ability to keep Sainz long-term. In an ideal world, Sainz would’ve been locked up for the long term by Renault but that’s not the reality of the situation.

Long term, who knows, but for 2018 Renault look promising.

Losers

Toro Rosso

What did Toro Rosso gain out of this?

They lost their best driver in Sainz and they’re stuck with Honda engines from next year. If that Honda engine anything like it is this year, Toro Rosso are going to be right at the back. Toro Rosso have been used to scrapping for points for years now, it’s been a long time since they’ve been a back-marker team — 06, 07?

Unfortunately, those are the breaks when you’re a B-Team, but at least there’s a seat for Pierre Gasly next year? Yay?

 

Azerbaijan GP Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images via F1.com

Quotes: F1.com

Wow, wow, wow. What a race.

Daniel Ricciardo, from 10th on the grid, won a crazy, crazy incident/controversy filled Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas and Lance Stroll, who secured his first podium in F1.

Losers

Normally we start with the winners but given the weekend that was in it, we’ll start with the losers.

Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton

Oh boy, where to start with this one… Let’s start with ‘Red-5’.

Vettel

Red is colour of his car and red was what he saw when he was caught napping behind Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car. I initially thought that Hamilton had brake-checked Vettel but the FIA looked at the telemetry and found that Hamilton was consistent in his speed prior to restarts.

I think Vettel was clearly upset that he had damaged his front wing, how the damage could’ve been much more and that his race could’ve easily been ruined and decided to give Hamilton a piece of his mind.

Vettel didn’t understand, at the time, why he received a 10 second stop/go penalty for this moment of madness, but I honestly don’t think he realised what he actually did in the moment.

You can see from the onboard camera that when he pulled out from behind Hamilton to go alongside him he takes his hands off the wheel just as he’s about to pull alongside him. His hand doesn’t actually go back onto the steering wheel when he hits into Hamilton, so I don’t think it was pre-meditated just really careless and clumsy. But he would’ve obviously felt the significant contact, so he would’ve known he hit him…

A rush of blood to the head ultimately cost Vettel victory but he still managed to recover to fourth place ahead of Hamilton.

Hamilton

Hamilton’s race, on the other hand, was not affected by Vettel’s moment of madness but, of all things, a loose headrest which he forced him to pit from the lead to fit a new one and ensure it was secured properly. Of all things… Not an engine/gearbox/suspension element malfunctioning but an insecure headrest… Quite incredible, and it was the difference between catching Vettel in the championship standings to having the gap increase further (from 12 to 14 points).

Post race, the war of words ensued:

Toto Wolff has said that “the gloves are off” now, and you’d figure this ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff between Vettel and Hamilton would eventually end and this will surely do that. With the gloves off, the mind games will surely begin soon and the heated rivalry we’ve all wanted will surely take off.

The “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” races…

For many teams and many drivers, a huge ‘what-if’ will be placed upon this weekend. There’s so many of them.

What if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest was secured properly?

What if Max Verstappen’s engine hadn’t failed? Could he have challenged for the win?

What if Felipe Massa wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have challenged for the win?

What if Sergio Perez hadn’t collided with his teammate? Could he have won this race?

What if Kimi Raikkonen hadn’t picked up a puncture from the Ocon-Perez scrap? Could he have won this race?

What if Valterri Bottas hadn’t picked up a puncture and gone done a lap one lap 1?

What if Jolyon Palmer wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have scored some points?

And so on…

A weekend of many regrets and what-ifs for many drivers and teams…

Force India

Force India were a hot topic of discussion in Canada for not enforcing team orders and allowing Esteban Ocon ahead of Sergio Perez to challenge Daniel Ricciardo for a podium position before Sebastian Vettel inevitably caught them. With Perez insisting the team to let them race, he failed to pass Ricciardo and was caught and passed by Vettel, consigning Force India to a 5th and 6th placed finishes.

This weekend seemed to escalate the, perhaps, already existing tensions at Force India. With Perez and Ocon running in P4 and P5 after the first restart on lap 20, the two got quite punchy and Ocon didn’t really give Perez the space he should have and the result was a collision between the two.

While Ocon was able to recover thanks to the safety car/red flag, Perez’s race was utterly ruined, and with Massa, Hamilton and Vettel (who all ran into issues later in the race, literally in the case of some) the only drivers running in front of Perez at the time, there was a real sense of ‘what-if?’ with Perez and Force India.

They could’ve easily have had their first race victory and that was taken away from them.

These haven’t been the best two races for Force India. Sure, the points they’ve netted have been alright but it could’ve been so much more…

I would love to be a fly on the wall in that debrief room…

Sauber

Why are Sauber here? They scored a championship point, why are they losers? They’re losers because they botched a swap-job.

Marcus Ericsson was running P10 when Sauber switched Ericsson and Wehrlein to see if Pascal make a run at 9th placed Alonso, with Wehrlein to give the position back to Ericsson if he couldn’t. But with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne fast approaching and on their tails by the end of the race, Sauber couldn’t manoeuvre the switch, meaning Wehrlein kept P10, much to the reported anger of Ericsson…

Winners

Lance Stroll

What a race for Lance Stroll but to be fair to him, he was on it the whole weekend. When everyone was going off the road in FP2, Stroll kept his nose clean and followed his first points finish with his first ever podium — finishing in P3, JUST behind Valterri Bottas who nicked P2 from Stroll right at the death.

Though Stroll was cruelly robbed right at the death, I don’t think he’ll ultimately care a bit.

“…Coming into this weekend I never thought I would be standing on the podium,” said an elated Stroll. “It’s an amazing feeling and, for me, a dream come true…”

Star recovery drives from Ricciardo and Bottas

Daniel Ricciardo

What an eventful race for Daniel Ricciardo. Having being forced to pit in the early stages in this race (due to a piece of debris clogging the brakes ducts which needed clearing), Ricciardo was sat — having started in P10 after his Q3 crash — in P17 with seemingly no chance of a podium, let alone a win. But he just kept at it and made his way through the field, avoiding the mayhem in front of him.

While Ricciardo was one of the many beneficiaries of the carnage happening in front of him, he launched himself into an unlikely podium position when he brilliantly launched past both Williams cars after the safety car restart.

Just as his defensive driving against his teammate Max Verstappen in Malaysia, this move also proved to be ultimately decisive and would help give Danny-Ric victory following the calamities between Hamilton and Vettel.

Having sat in P17 at one stage, this was one of the most unlikeliest victories in F1 for quite some time.

And it wouldn’t be a Daniel Ricciardo victory without…

A fifth career victory for ‘The Honey Badger’, and I wonder where this one ranks…

Valterri Bottas

When Valterri Bottas was forced to pit after the first lap with a puncture (after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen) he was a lap down with seemingly zero chance of any sort of points.

But due to the crazy nature of this race, Bottas was allowed to un-lap himself under the safety car and scythed his way through the field, benefitting from the multiple incidents in front of him: Max Verstappen’s retirement, the Force India scrap and Raikkonen’s subsequent puncture, Felipe Massa’s retirement, Sebatian Vettel’s 10 second stop/go and Lewis Hamilton’s unscheduled pitstop.

He passed Esteban Ocon on lap 40 (of 51) and set about hunting down the Williams of Lance Stroll. As we’ve seen already, he was ultimately successful in catching and passing the Williams, albeit right at the death.

From one lap down to P2…no doubt he had help but still a fantastic drive from Valterri Bottas.

“…for Valtteri, it just goes to show you can never give up”, said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “He did a sensational job from a lap down and it was the perfect finale to steal P2 on the line…”

McLaren-Honda

A half-winner/half-loser here for McLaren-Honda. Though Fernando Alonso secured McLaren’s first points of the year at a track they probably would never have expected, how many more points could this have been on another day?

Eric Boullier certainly wasn’t enthusiastic about McLaren’s first points of the season…

“I’m not smiling, I’m not excited, because it’s not the reason why I’m racing, and especially not racing with McLaren”, Boullier said via autosport.com

On a weekend where Fernando Alonso’s seemingly inevitable departure picked up much more traction, what do two measly points ultimately mean? Were McLaren really winners this weekend? Days like this only heighten the frustration.

They’re ultimately winners because they finally scored some points but deep down…

 

Canadian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Quotes: F1.com

Lewis Hamilton converted his excellent pole into a flawless win in Round 7 of the 2017 Formula 1 ahead of his Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the podium slots in what a thrilling race.

Winners

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

If you had presented the weekend that eventually unfolded before Lewis Hamilton on Thursday, he would’ve taken both of your arms and your legs off of you.

Hamilton was certainly against the odds heading into the weekend — trailing by 25 points in the championship — and even by the end of practice session 3 where Vettel topped the timesheets Hamilton was facing a huge challenge.

But qualifying came around the corner and Hamilton produced one of the greatest qualifying laps I’ve ever seen to not just beat the competition but destroy them, equalling his hero Ayrton Senna’s tally of 65 pole positions in the process.

Max Verstappen’s mega start from P5 made life for Hamilton’s competition off of the line (Bottas and Vettel) difficult and they couldn’t mount a challenge on Hamilton off the start, instead having to go defensive. In an effort to sweep around Vettel’s outside, Verstappen clipped Vettel’s front wing which would eventually force the German to pit not long after the safety car (deployed for the Grosjean-Sainz-Massa incident) peeled back into the pit-lane, putting him well down the order.

Though Vettel managed to recover to P4, Hamilton was flawless out the front and never looked in any danger. We’ll never know how Ferrari’s true race pace compared to the Mercedes but Lewis Hamilton, I reckon, is fine with not knowing and he reduced the 25 point deficit to just 12 points.

“It’s been such an incredible weekend,” said Hamilton. “I just couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone and I’m so grateful for this result. We came away from Monaco and we were scratching our heads, but we pulled together and look what we achieved. We came here with a much better understanding of the car and we delivered a real blow to the Ferraris…”

For Mercedes, it was their first 1-2 finish of the season and Ferrari’s troubles meant that the Silver Arrows jumped back into 1st place in the constructors standings. It really was a perfect weekend for Toto Wolff and company.

“That feels absolutely great,” said Wolff. “We have finally taken a 1-2 finish and done so at a track that we expected would be difficult for us – and which certainly was for us last year…”

It’s great to have a championship contested between more than one team.

Lance Stroll

It looked like another weekend for Lance Stroll. Starting from P17, no one gave Lance much of a chance heading into the race but not only was he involved in some great scraps with drivers, Stroll also managed to drive a clean race and finish in P9 — picking up his first points finish of the season and indeed his young career.

“I am just happy for myself, for the team, for everyone,” Stroll said. “The balance of the car was good all race. I was in a flow. I knew we had good straight line speed in the Williams. I chose my overtakes at the right times, sometimes I could have done them a lap earlier, but it was a bit risky so I did it a lap later and stayed patient…”

Stroll was certainly patient, if not a little too tentative but his race-craft will improve with time. This was a huge weekend for him, potentially ground breaking for his career.

“…It’s a great story”, Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe remarked post-race. “Given the difficult start Lance has had to his Formula One career, this feels like a race win to us. It was an incredible drive. He showed some fantastic race-craft, great overtaking and he really earned those points today. From 17th on the grid up to ninth, including a battle with a double world champion, which he took in his stride. I think today’s result will boost his confidence going forward and will give him some real momentum…”

Esteban Ocon

We’ll touch on the whole Force India issue in full soon but although P6 wasn’t the result Esteban Ocon was hoping for, he won a lot of fans over for his great drive on Sunday and his continued consistency this season.

He drove a great race yesterday and continues to prove he’s the right man to be sat in that Force India seat. Though the standing don’t really reflect this, Ocon has definitely proved a stiff challenge to his much more experienced (and highly rated) teammate Sergio Perez and he stuck with Perez right until the end on a different strategy.

“…The battle between Sergio and Esteban was one of the stories of the race and showed how closely matched they are as teammates…”, Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernely said.

Though he was disappointed, Esteban conducted himself very well for a young driver where it would’ve been easy to still possibly angry, Ocon carries a nice smile on his face instead.

“My time will come.”

Sir Patrick Stewart

No explanation needed here.

Losers

Ferrari

Fairly obvious this one, wasn’t it?

I honestly believe Ferrari could’ve won this race and this was about the worst thing that could’ve happened this weekend: Mercedes score a 1-2 finish and they struggle — Vettel with that front wing and floor damage forcing him to pit early and Kimi’s brake issues late in the race resulting in 4th and 7th place finishes respectively.

“Unfortunately, our race was compromised right from the start, when Seb’s car was damaged so he was no longer able to give it his best shot”, said team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. “Initially, our data showed the damage was not too serious. It was only in the following laps that the wing broke, causing further damage to the turning vanes and the floor. As for Kimi, towards the end he had a problem with the braking system control…”

Ferrari also decided to pit both cars a second time (most other teams choosing to do a one-stop) and this would’ve been the correct call if it had been done a few laps earlier. It made sense to stop again, they would’ve just toiled behind the Red Bull and Force Indias struggling to overtake on extremely worn tyres (Vettel pitting for fresh tyres very early in the race when he changed his wing). Ferrari projected that they would be back onto the Ricciardo, Perez and Ocon train about eight laps from the end but it was probably about six/five laps. Though Vettel managed to dispatch both Perez and Ocon, he fell short of Ricciardo but would’ve easily overtaken him if he had one/two more laps.

Even though the race itself was a bit of a disaster for Ferrari, they’re still in a good position in both championships — they trail Mercedes by only eight points and Vettel still holds a 12 point lead.

Force India

Though they netted some nice points, I’m giving the ‘Boys in Pink’ a loser here.

The scenario here was very simple: Sergio Perez had more than enough time to try to overtake Ricciardo and he wasn’t getting it done. Ocon was on 13 lap younger tyres and unable to get by his teammate, who has DRS on Ricciardo. The Ferraris were coming and were going to cruise up to the back of them by the end of the race and will probably overtake them. One of the Force Indias simply had to get past Ricciardo or else the red monster behind them was going to eat them and cost them points.

Ocon did the right thing by radioing in, basically saying ‘Look, I think I can overtake Ricciardo but I need the opportunity’. The team gave Perez three laps to overtake Ricciardo and then would ask Perez to move over and let Ocon have a go. Perez and the team basically negotiated while the race was ongoing about the situation, and the end result was that Perez still couldn’t get by Ricciardo and both he and Ocon were overtaken by Vettel late on.

Could Ocon have actually overtaken Danny-Ric? We’ll never know but I think he could’ve. With DRS assistance on a Mercedes engine (versus a Renault engine), much fresher rubber and on the softer compound tyre I think he could’ve done it. He could’ve finished 3rd which would’ve been huge for the team. But instead they finished P5 and P6 and that should have been P6 and P7 were it not for Raikkonen’s brake problems.

Though Force India don’t imply team orders, this situation needed a firm and authoritative voice to tell Perez to move over and let Ocon by while they were still able to. That voice would’ve been Bob Fernley. In the end, it cost the Pink Panthers points and possibly a podium.

Ruined races/what could’ve been: Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa

Sports are generally a large “what could’ve been…” but both Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa were both left to wonder at what could’ve been in Montreal.

We’ll start with Verstappen.

Max had the start of dreams, jumping from P5 to P2 by the end of the second turn 2.

Verstappen was feisty on the restart and looked like he could’ve spoiled the Mercedes party but an engine store problem cut the engine out on lap 11 and Max was forced to retire, much to his displeasure.

“The way the race ended for me was very frustrating after such a good start”, said a disappointed Verstappen. “I think a podium was possible but once again we come away with nothing…”

If he wasn’t heading for P2, Verstappen was certainly set for P3 but instead handed it to his teammate.

For Felipe Massa, it was all over before it really began. Before the Ferraris had their issues or Verstappen retired, he was T-Boned heading into Turn 3 — a complete passenger in the Sainz-Grosjean incident.

Massa had shown great pace all weekend and I think he could’ve definitely been in the Ricciardo, Perez, Ocon hunt for a podium. But a rough start and lost positions meant that Massa was in a position where he could’ve been affected by something like this. Had he maintained his grid position he wouldn’t have been involved in this accident. Not to say you should expect something like this to happen…

“I’m so disappointed to be out after just three corners. I was a complete passenger in the collision,” said Massa. “I think Carlos was hit by somebody, but I was the only car that he hit. It’s a shame to finish the race like that, especially when the car has been so competitive all weekend and we could have scored a good amount of points.”

Either Massa or Verstappen could’ve been stood on that final rostrum spot but in the end it was neither…

McLaren-Honda

Things were looking good for McLaren Honda with two laps to go as Fernando Alonso held 10th place and was set for a point. But then…McLaren-Honda happened. Alonso’s engine failed just two laps from a point on a day where so many things fell into the laps of McLaren. Empty handed yet again due to another Honda failure.

Team principal Eric Boullier told it as it was after the race.

“For the first time this season, running in 10th place within spitting distance of the flag, we dared to hope…”

Hope is a dangerous thing, Eric, especially at McLaren-Honda…

“OK, what we were daring to hope for were hardly rich pickings: a solitary world championship point for Fernando, who had driven superbly all afternoon, as he’s driven superbly every race-day afternoon for the past two-and-a-half years. But, after so much toil and heartache, even that single point would have felt like a victory.

“And then came yet another gut-wrenching failure.

“It’s difficult to find the right words to express our disappointment, our frustration and, yes, our sadness. So I’ll say only this: it’s simply, and absolutely, not good enough.”

Even when the car was running it was just getting absolutely mugged on the straights. Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne are utterly helpless, just sitting ducks waiting to be overtaken.

There’s been a lot of chatter this weekend about this, now seemingly, inevitable split between McLaren and Honda and this week might have been the final nail in the coffin. It’s been an utter disaster and it simply can’t go on.

Alonso, however, boosted his ever-increasing popularity. After he stopped on the track, he wanted to give his gloves to the supporters in the grandstand. Then he ended up inside of it.

Alonso had driven another great race and, again, proved why he is one the best to have ever graced the F1 paddock. His awareness, how much he is able to process and figure out while travelling over 200 mph is something else. When radioed about his strategy, Alonso replied “You are not giving me useful information. I need the pace of Magnussen…”

He knows who he’s racing…

Later on, he noticed how Raikkonen wasn’t pulling away from him that quickly on the supersofts and how Vettel wasn’t catching him as quickly as he imagined, also on the supersofts and questioned whether the supersoft tyre was the right tyre to be on. The information he’s able to process while his mind is required to be constantly engage is incredible.

Toro Rosso

Not the best weekend for Toro Rosso. A squabble about teammate slipstreaming in qualifying was followed by a double DNF. Carlos Sainz did not see the Haas of Romain Grosjen on his inside and squeezed him somewhat before Grosjean — having to get back onto the track — touched the Toro Rosso which sent Sainz into a nasty spin which caught the unfortunate Massa and both headed into retirement.

“…I have to say I never saw the car there, it’s simply a dead angle in my mirrors so I never knew he was there”, said Sainz. “If I had realized I was there, of course I would’ve been more careful and left some space. Once we collided I was just a passenger, crashed into the wall and that was the end of my race unfortunately…”

For Kvyat, he had issues getting off the start line on the formation lap, didn’t recover to his 11th place on the grid in time, was handed a drive-through penalty before it was discovered that wasn’t the correct punishment and was then handed a 10 second time penalty in addition to the drive-through penalty he had already served.

Needless to say, he was not happy. In addition to some very colourful language over the team radio, Kvyat added “They should cancel this stupid rule. Who is this rule for? Are we taxi drivers here or Formula 1 drivers? I don’t understand this. It’s a circus, a stupid fucking circus. I will go and talk to Charlie. It’s annoying me, it’s really annoying me…”

A problem in the pits severely delayed the already angry Kvyat and he subsequently retired. It’s a shame, because Kvyat was running in P7 before having to serve his drive-through and then fought back into the points before his nightmare pit-stop.

Monaco Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel claimed his 3rd win of the season — and Ferrari’s first at Monaco in 16 years — on the streets of Monte Carlo, leading a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the podium places.

Winners

Sebastian Vettel’s title hunt

With Lewis Hamilton’s struggles in qualifying, this was a great opportunity to extend his championship and took full advantage of his rival’s struggles. Ferrari helped him out by seemingly giving Vettel the optimum strategy (the overcut) to jump his teammate in the pits and from there on out there was no way he was letting victory go. Vettel’s win extended the championship lead to a race wins worth: 25 points.

This advantage now means Vettel is firmly in the driving seat for the title as both himself and Hamilton had both exchanged blows to begin the season. With that in mind, how does Vettel — and indeed Hamilton — respond in Canada?

You could say it’s Vettel’s title to lose right now but there’s a long way to go.

Daniel Ricciardo

Danny-Ric was a frustrated figure after qualifying on Saturday. He was frustrated that he wasn’t dropped in clear space for his final run and he qualified 5th as a result, behind his teammate Max Verstappen.

But Sunday held different fortunes for the ‘Honey-Badger’.

With Verstappen attempting the undercut on 3rd placed Valterri Bottas forcing Mercedes to react and pit Bottas, Ricciardo pumped in some incredible laps, trading fastest laps with Sebastian Vettel, and these lifted Ricciardo not only above his teammate into 4th but ahead of Bottas into 3rd. From there, it was rudimentary for Ricciardo and he took home the final podium place.

Unlike last year where he looked like a miserable man despite finishing in 2nd place (a race he should’ve won), Danny-Ric was very happy with his 3rd place finish.

Great drive from Danny-Ric. Amidst all the stardom that surrounds his young teammate, Max Verstappen, he’s still proving he’s still top-dog at Red Bull.

Haas

A very nifty double-points finish for Haas with Romain Grosjean having a very quiet afternoon finishing 8th and Kevin Magnussen finishing 10th.

Magnussen was unlucky he was forced to pit due to some damage to one of his tyres after his first stop but got himself back into the points after Sergio Perez’s and Daniil Kvyat’s collision boosted his position two spots.

Not much else to say here, just a nice double-points finish for Haas, who now move level with Renault on 14 points for 7th place in the constructors standings.

“It’s the first time we’ve had two cars in the top-10, so that’s really good, especially in Monaco…”

Romain Grosjean

Carlos Sainz

How long will it be before Carlos Sainz is in a situation where he can fight for podiums/race wins? The guy is immensely talented and he proved it again on Sunday, holding down to the 6th place he secured in qualifying and taking his season tally to 25 points. That’s more than Felipe Massa and more than Esteban Ocon, both of whom drive faster cars.

You forget sometimes that Sainz is in a Toro Rosso, but to be fair that machine was well hooked up even in Thursday practice. Canada might be a tougher hunting ground for Sainz where the Renault engine in the back of that Toro Rosso might hamper him in comparison to the Mercedes powered engines in the back of the Force Indias and Williams’.

“What a result, what a perfect weekend! We need to enjoy this moment, because it’s not usual to achieve a faultless Grand Prix on the streets of Monaco – and this time we did! We put in good laps in practice, in yesterday’s qualifying session and, in today’s race, we were able to keep a World Champion in a faster car behind and finish P6 – it definitely feels so good! We’ve also been quicker than the rest of the midfield throughout the whole weekend and I’d like to thank the whole team for this, they gave me a very good car to drive! I really enjoyed today’s race – now it’s time to celebrate this well-deserved result with the team before starting to think about the Canadian GP, which is up next!”

— Carlos Sainz

Young drivers around Monaco

Normally the tight streets of Monaco claim the races of the younger drivers of the field due it’s ruthless nature and the sheer concentration it requires for 78 laps. Prior to this season, Max Verstappen had crashed out of both of his Monaco appearances and Jolyon Palmer crashed out last season. But this season the young drivers fared quite well in terms of not binning it in the wall.

Max Verstappen finished in 5th, Carlos Sainz finished in 6th and did a good job fending off Lewis Hamilton, Jolyon Palmer finished in 11th, Stoffel Vandoorne was running 10th before Perez, sort of, directed him into the barriers at Sainte Devote, Lance Stroll kept himself out of the wall (a cooked front left brake forcing him to retire late on), Pascal Wehrlein was sent sideways by Jenson Button and Esteban Ocon finished his 1st Monaco Grand Prix at the first attempt.

A good outing for the young’ns.

Jenson Button’s and Fernando Alonso’s pre-race radio exchange

JB came out of retirement for one race, to race in his former teammate’s place as the Spaniard competed in the Indy 500. Before the race, Alonso spoke to Jenson wishing him luck and JB’s response was hilarious.

Amazing.

Losers

Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen

The most talked about item from this race was Ferrari’s decision to pit Kimi Raikkonen before Vettel. This allowed him the optimum strategy around Monaco (the overcut) and to pound some super laps in before pitting him. The ultimate result was a seemingly perfect execution of the switch Ferrari wanted the German jumped the Finn after the only round of scheduled pitstops. It looked engineered, a ploy to get the Ferrari the team wanted in front…

This made it very clear that Ferrari have put all their chips on Vettel to win the title. It’s race 6-of-20. RACE SIX. It’s way too early to do this kind of thing…

Lewis Hamilton was also absolutely convinced that Ferrari knew what they were doing when they pitted Kimi first.

“On strategy that just doesn’t happen – the leading car, it’s very hard for him to get jumped by the second car unless the team decide to favour the other car. That’s very clear.”

— Lewis Hamilton

For Kimi himself, this officially labels him as the clear number two driver for the rest of the season and what does this mean for him going forward into next year? Is this it for Kimi in F1 after this season? I’m sure there’s a team who’ll sign him but I don’t think Kimi is interested in anything other than a Ferrari drive.

What should’ve been a wonderful day for Kimi and many F1 fans turned into stoic expressions.

Lewis Hamilton

Though Lewis Hamilton did a good job to limit the damage that was inevitably going to be done after his difficult qualifying by finishing 7th, he does however find himself now 25 points behind Vettel in the title race.

The good news for Hamilton is that there’s plenty of time to recover but it’s obviously never ideal to be down 25 points at any stage of the season. We’ve seen how he can seemingly just turn it on and romp away with 3/4 straight wins. He’s going to need to do that — or hope that Vettel slips up/breaks down — in order to catch up.

A lot of work to do for Lewis.

McLaren

If there was a weekend for McLaren to score points this was it. But they were already compromised even before the race started. Despite both McLaren’s qualifying in the top 10, both Button and Vandoorne started outside of it due to various penalties, Button starting from the pitlane.

Track position is everything at Monaco, and unfortunately for Button he was screwed from the start. He got tucked up behind Pascal Wehrlein for his entire race despite McLaren trying a different strategy to get Button in free air, and his frustration eventually got the better of him as JB tried to send one up the inside of the Sauber at Portier… Not exactly an overtaking spot and Wehrlein was un-sighted by the move, turned in for the corner, caught JB’s wheel and flipped over.

Not JB’s finest moment and he netted himself a three-place grid penalty for the next race… I somehow doubt that penalty will ever be applied… Joking aside, had he not had to deal with his various penalties, I’ve no doubt he would comfortably finished in the top 10 where he qualified.

As for Vandoorne, he was running well in P10 but stuffed it in the barrier after Perez’s dive down in Sainte Devote forced him to adjust his line out of turn one and, as is the case with Monaco, he ran out of space.

With the next two tracks (Canada and Baku) being power tracks, it’s hard to imagine — barring major upgrades — when McLaren will be in a position to contend for some points again in the near future.

“Sometimes you visit the Monte-Carlo casino and hit the jackpot; other times you walk away empty-handed. For us, this was just one of those unfortunate days when the luck didn’t go our way…”

— Eric Boullier

Force India

Rotten weekend for Force India. Perez’s race was ruined on lap 1 when he sustained some front wing damaged that forced him to eventually pit, sticking him behind the Williams of Lance Stroll. After recovering to the points positions, Perez was involved in two separate incidents with Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat, the latter forcing the Russian to retire and the Mexican to pit again, placing him last of the finishing runners at 13th.

And the only punishment for Perez was a 10 second penalty, not a grid penalty for the next race which would’ve been well deserved.

For Esteban Ocon, he was compromised with his qualifying spot but found himself in more trouble when he was forced to make an unscheduled stop after suffering some damage to his tyre in the same way K-Magg did in the Haas — a loose manhole cover/track breakup in Sainte Devote.

He was near the back of the field for most of the race but did finish ahead of his teammate in the end, thanks to Perez’s adventures.

They have been double-points finishers for the first 5 races but that streak was abruptly broken on the streets of Monte Carlo.

“A day of unrealised potential on both sides of the garage. Sergio’s contact with Sainz on lap one proved very costly with the early pit stop to change the nose. For Esteban, it was always going to be difficult to battle through from P15 on the grid, but the race was coming to us until he picked up a puncture. It cost Esteban a handful of points and that was a real shame. So it was one of those days when things didn’t go our way – as can often be the case in Monaco. We will dust ourselves down and look to come back strongly in Montreal in two weeks’ time.”

— Bob Fernley

There’s something about Monaco…

Feature image: Sutton Images

The Principalities. The famous streets. The exotic life. A third of the ‘Triple Crown’. The jewel in the crown. The one they all want to win.

The Monaco Grand Prix.

There’s something so special about the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s unpredictable nature means anything can happen. Drama, action and excitement. The streets of Monte Carlo have it all…

Watch Mr. Monaco himself Graham Hill, a five time winner, describes a lap around Monaco. It’s a classic clip in F1 history from a classic driver.

This event can truly make the impossible possible. Under normal circumstances in 1992, there’s no way Nigel Mansell’s Williams would be denied but not in Monaco as Aryton Senna defiantly fended off Mansell — who pitted from the lead due to a tyre issue — for a memorable win.

Monaco is a marathon. 78 laps around the tight and twisty bends of Monte Carlo. It’s an endurance race and one of a kind. One lock up, one snap of over-steer, one lapse of concentration and it’s over. The streets of Monaco are cruel as Lance Stroll found out on Thursday practice.

That what it should mean to be an F1 driver. You’re on the edge and mistakes are punished severely. Sure, I like tracks like Bahrain but the run-off areas are the size of the deserts the tracks are built in. You can run wide and it’s no big deal. Not in Monaco…

If you simply finish the Monaco Grand Prix that’s an achievement in itself and if you finished you have a chance of scoring points. Monaco is where the Marussia team score their only points thanks to the late Jules Bianchi’s 9th place in 2014.

Monaco is where we see the race of some driver’s lives. In 2004 Jarno Trulli won his only F1 race on the famous streets of Monaco in a classic affair that saw Michael Schumacher get squeezed in the tunnel, under the safety car conditions, by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Fernando Alonso also crashed out of the race after attempting to overtake back-marker Ralf Schumacher around the outside in the tunnel.

This left Trulli to fend off Jenson Button for the final stint of the race and Jarno went on to win a classic.

Even in recent history Monaco has churned out great races.

2015 saw a controversial decision from the Mercedes team to pit race-leader Lewis Hamilton under the safety car to fit on the supersoft tyres, believing they had enough of a window to pit and rejoin in the lead. But Mercedes and Hamilton (who wanted to pit) miscalculated their margin and Hamilton rejoined behind Sebastian Vettel and teammate Nico Rosberg who went on to win the race.

A very wet affair 2016 saw one of the moments of the season occur as the Red Bull team called Daniel Ricciardo into the pits from the lead but didn’t have his tyres ready. Ricciardo lost valuable time in the pits and Hamilton got the jump on the Aussie. With track position being absolutely everything in Monaco and overtaking truly an art, Ricciardo couldn’t get past Hamilton and had to settle for second.

Monaco always springs some surprises. Let’s see what it springs this year.

Spanish Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Lewis Hamilton netted his second win of the 2017 season in an entertaining Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in second and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in third place.

Mercedes’ strategists 

The real reason Lewis Hamilton won this race was the strategy choices from the Mercedes pit wall. Their choice to get the harder compound of tyre out of the way proved to be an inspired one and it played right into their hands when a virtual safety car was deployed for the Vandoorne-Massa incident that saw the McLaren driver break his suspension.

With Ferrari choosing to run soft-soft-medium, it meant that Mercedes would be on the softer/faster compound to end the race while Vettel would be running the mediums in the final stint. It was looking as though Hamilton would have to make up 8-ish seconds in the final stint on the faster compound but that VSC — and Ferrari’s decision to not pit under it — closed the gap right up and the two were nip-and-tuck heading into the first two turns.

Though Vettel held the lead for the time being, on the slower compound he was always going to be challenged by Hamilton and on lap 44 Lewis made his move.

Even in the moment Vettel acknowledged there was nothing he could do about it and Hamilton saved his tyres very well from there on out, stretching the softs for 30 laps to finish the race.

It’s difficult to say whether Hamilton would’ve been able to catch and overtake Vettel in the absence of a virtual safety car but those strategic decisions — and Vettel being held up by Valterri Bottas after the first set of pitstops — played right into Hamilton’s hands, who closes the deficit to six points.

“…it was important for Lewis to stay close behind Sebastian – and then it was a question of undercutting or not. I think it was realistic for Ferrari to avoid the undercut and pit Sebastian. From that moment it was important to see how he moved through the traffic. We had hoped that [Red Bull’s Daniel] Riccardo would make Seb’s life quite difficult but Seb’s pace was just so much faster that he passed him quite easily – and then we were on the back foot! There was not a lot we could do so we tried to extend Lewis’s stint and hope that towards the end of the race he had a better tyre situation. Then we went on a remote strategy – putting the medium tyres on and keeping the softs for the end to be able to attack. Hopefully attack! And then the VSC (Virtual Safety Car) came and that forced us to rethink our strategy. Our strategy group opted now to do the opposite of what was planned: to pit at the very end of the VSC to make it impossible for Sebastian to react. Our timing was perfect! I take my hat off to James (Vowles, strategy chief) and his guys for that coup.

— Toto Wolff

Pascal Wehrlein and Sauber

It took until a manic and wet Round 20 of the 2016 season for Sauber team to score any points but some wonderful driving from Pascal Wehrlein and an inspired 1-stop strategy helped Sauber along to an eighth place finish (following the implementation of a 5-second penalty for being on the wrong side of the bollard heading into the pitlane) and their first points finish of the season in only Round 5.

Wehrlein himself was involved in a great scrap all race long with the quicker Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz and managed to keep him behind him, the 5-second penalty was the only thing that denied Wehrlein from P7.

“A great result for our team – with a perfect strategy behind it. Both drivers have put in a good performance. Pascal managed to have an excellent race, whereas Marcus also made the most out of the car. Today’s result proves that we are in the right direction and that there is definitely potential in our car. We are curious about what comes next in Monaco when further aero parts will be introduced.”

— Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal

Bigger picture stuff for Sauber: they’ve got themselves on the board while their biggest rivals McLaren (it’s incredibly sad to type those words…) haven’t looked like scoring at all this season and it’s unclear where and when they could score points. So that makes this result even more important for Sauber.

Force India

With the retirements of Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Valeterri Bottas, as well as the problems suffered by Felipe Massa, the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon strolled to a 4th and 5th place finish helped push Force India 43 points ahead of Williams in their battle for 4th place in the constructors while trailing Red Bull by only 19 points for 3rd place.

Shoutout to Esteban Ocon. He has been consistent all season long and 5th place is a new career-high finish for Ocon.

Great day for the men in pink.

The Kimi Raikkonen fan

This poor kid was devastated when his, presumably, favourite driver Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire on lap 1 after he was hit by Bottas which forced him into Verstappen, forcing both Max and Kimi to retire.

However, there’s a happy ending to be had. Ferrari caught wind of this and arranged for the kid to come down to Ferrari and meet Kimi Raikkonen, much to the kid’s obvious delight.

Great stuff from Kimi and Ferrari.

Losers

Red Bull

This was it for Red Bull’s season in terms of challenging for the constructors title. Their upgrades had to bring them closer to the leading pair of Mercedes and Ferrari and the end result was that Daniel Ricciardo finished 1:15 behind Hamilton. As you can probably assume, that’s just not going to get it done.

Team principle Christian Horner has conceded that Red Bull are out of the running for this year’s title, saying “…Ferrari and Mercedes did a better job in interpreting the rules than we did…”

In the engine department, Ferrari and Mercedes continue to improve and control their own engine destiny while Red Bull — a customer of Renault — continue to play catch up…

‘Danny Ric’ did boost Red Bull’s spirits a bit with a 3rd place finish but only because both Raikkonen and Bottas retired…

McLaren and their fight against Sauber

Bad, bad day for McLaren.

With Sauber’s points finish, McLaren are now solely rooted to the bottom of the standings with seemingly no points finish in sight. Fernando Alonso finished 12th for his first finish of the season in a sightly improved McLaren, but finished behind both Saubers and could only muster 12th with three regular points scorers (Raikkonen, Bottas and Verstappen) all DNFing.

For Alonso, hopefully the car is better by the time he returns for the Canadian Grand Prix after his Indy 500 adventures.

Williams

An equally tough day for another former super power of F1. Following a puncture on lap 1, Felipe Massa’s race was ruined and Lance Stroll struggled all race long with other issues. Stroll finished 16 (the last of the classified runners) as he completely fell off near the end of the race.

In the constructors standing, Williams drop to 6th place and have fallen behind Toro Rosso now. This is what happens when only one driver is capable of scoring points…

Jolyon Palmer

After a rough start to the season, things didn’t really get better for Jolyon Palmer in Spain. While his teammate Nico Hulkenburg finished in 6th place, Palmer finished 15th place, 2 laps down.

I wouldn’t be surprised — by the time the Hungarian Grand Prix comes around — if Palmer isn’t relieved of his duties. Hulkenburg’s performances are showing what is possible from that car and Palmer has been way off compared to his more experienced teammate.

Russian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

(Quotes: F1.com)

After finally getting a brief taste of what life is like at the front of the pack in Bahrain, Valterri Bottas took his first grand prix victory at the 81st attempt at Sochi. Sebastian Vettel ran him close but ultimately finished 2nd ahead of his teammate Kimi Raikkonen in 3rd.

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Winners

Valterri Bottas

He was on the pace all weekend, out-qualified his much more illustrious teammate Lewis Hamilton and once he took the lead at the start (tucking in nicely behind the slipstream of Vettel and off he went), he was in a league of his own in that first stint, pulling away from the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. And when things got tense at the end, when he was in uncharted waters, he held on, because it sure seemed — one Valterri had that one lockup — that Vettel (on fresher tyres) would reel him in and pass him, but Bottas held on for a memorable maiden win.

“It’s going to take a while to sink in. Normally I’m not that emotional but hearing the Finnish national anthem was very special for me. It’s all a bit surreal, the first win and hopefully the first of many. It was definitely one of my best races ever. The pressure from Sebastian wasn’t too bad; the main issue was with the lapped cars, trying to get past those. It was tricky to pass them without losing time. I also had a lockup with about 15 laps to go that hurt the pace, but it was manageable. I asked for a bit of radio silence just to get on it and focus. I’m sure this victory will give me lots of confidence going forward. I knew I could do these results, I always trusted my ability, but this result confirms it.”

— Valterri Bottas

(A cracking trophy, by the way)

The win not only gets that monkey off of his back (which would’ve only gotten larger as the season progressed) but it also puts Bottas on the outskirts of the title charge, 63 points compared the leader’s (Vettel) 86 points. As Nico Rosberg (and many others before him) would tell you, leads can disappear quickly.

A great win for Bottas, fully deserved.

Force India

Despite some criticism of the VJM-10 (with upgrades coming at Barcelona), Force India continue to finish ahead of their rivals. Another double points finish for the ‘Pink Panthers’, Perez finishing 6th and Ocon finishing in 7th.

To be fair, those finishes should’ve been 7th and 8th, a slow puncture forced Williams’ Felipe Massa to pit from 6th late on, handing Force India some extra points. Regardless, the extra points helps Force India (31 points) tighten their early grip on 4th place in the constructors standings ahead of Williams (18 points, all scored by Felipe Massa).

“…The 14 points scored strengthen our fourth place in the championship and are a nice reward for a weekend where we maximised all our opportunities…”

— Bob Fernely, deputy team principle

Lance Stroll

Lance Stroll finished a race, his first race finish in four attempts after he secured 11th place. Bar the first lap spin under the safety car, he kept his nose clean and brought the car home, even though he didn’t know exactly what to do when the race was over…

“It was so unfortunate. I had a really good start and think I was around P8 at one point, and then I got squeezed on the kerb, there wasn’t much grip and the car just got away from me. I knew I didn’t have any damage, but I fell to the back and it was just one of those things that happens. After that, it was a difficult first stint because I had that spin and then had to spin the car round to keep going, and I overheated the rears quite a bit so I had poor grip. But then I recovered a bit on the second stint and saw the chequered flag for the first time, which was nice. It was a bit disappointing with the spin, as I think it could have been quite a bit better, but we will take our first finish.”

— Lance Stroll

He has had his struggles (and they haven’t all been his fault, to be fair) so it was just good to see Stroll finish a race — should build his confidence going forward.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton

A very strange weekend for Lewis Hamilton, he just didn’t have the pace — which is unusual. Very unusual. He was half a second off the pace in qualifying (pretty much all of that time was lost in the final sector) and he dropped off in the race into nowhere, constantly radioing in issues with the cooling, he felt the car was overheating and had to drop back to cool it off.

“…For me it was a very tough weekend. I just wasn’t quick enough. I’ve never had cooling issues like that before but it meant I was out of the race from the get-go. I think I had the pace to fight with Kimi, but the car just kept overheating. Ultimately, if I had better pace then I would have been further up. At least I got some good points for the team. I’m just hopeful that I can pick up the pace at the next race.”

— Lewis Hamilton

As Lewis put it himself, he wasn’t quick enough. Even if he didn’t have the issues he had, whose to say he would’ve even been able to fight with the likes of Vettel and Bottas at the front? He was off the pace all weekend compared to his teammate, I don’t think he would’ve matched him this weekend.

The only saving grace for Lewis this weekend was that Vettel wasn’t able to score maximum points but did see the margin between himself and Sebastian increase to 13 points.

Fernando Alonso and McLaren-Honda

Flip sake… This can’t get any worse, can it? After Stoffel Vandoorne suffered a DNS (did not start) at Bahrain, Fernando suffered the same fate in Russia — an ERS issue meant that, for the first time since Indianapolis 2005 (the infamous Michelin tyre scandal), Fernando did not start the race.

“It’s tough, it’s frustrating – every weekend is the same.

“My power unit didn’t have the usual power during the formation lap, so my engineer told me to change some settings on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and towards the end of the lap the engine shut down. My race was over before it started.

“Not being able to take part in the race today and not being able to finish any race so far this season is extremely tough.

“But Formula 1 is my life, so hopefully we can improve the situation soon.”

— Fernando Alonso

Racing director, Eric Boullier, also didn’t hide his disappointment:

“You cannot hide behind a result like this: finishing 14th is not why McLaren-Honda goes racing, and, believe me, we are working hard to make sure this level of performance doesn’t last for long.

“That said, it’s still extremely disappointing to run into reliability and performance issues during a race weekend – we must work together to pull ourselves out of this position.

“As for Fernando, I share his frustration – it’s not acceptable to start the second consecutive grand prix with only one car, and we need to address this shortcoming immediately. He is naturally disappointed, but things will get better.”

— Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda racing director

I hope he’s right. I hope things will get better. This is beyond a joke and I can’t help but worry if this is steering Fernando closer to retirement/formula outside of F1.

Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer

Sure, let’s lump both of these together.

Grosjean was caught out in qualifying by the two accidents at the end of Q1 and qualified P20 (started P19 once Vandoorne’s 15 place grid-penalty was applied) and Palmer spun on his final hot-lap in Q1 after his team stayed up after hours to change the chassis.

They say start as you mean to go on. I guess it was fitting then, given both of their weekend had gone up to that point, that they collided with each other on lap 1 and were forced into retirement.

Looking at the accident, I don’t think it was anyone’s fault but it summed up their disappointing weekends, for sure.

“The weekend ended how it started – badly. I think the best thing we can do is put it behind us and concentrate on Spain…”

— Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal

“I had a decent-enough start then heading down to Turn Two there was a Sauber on my outside then Romain made a very ambitious move over the kerbs on the inside from behind. There was no space for me to go because of the Sauber, so maybe Romain wasn’t aware of that, but he kept it in, hit me, then we were both out of the race. That was a shame for both of us really. I feel for my crew this weekend as they’ve worked so hard on the car, then we had such a short race. Now it’s reset, reload and look to Barcelona.”

— Jolyon Palmer

It hasn’t been easy-going for Jo, he needs a good result and he needs one quickly. Nico Hulkenburg is absolutely decimating him in the inter-team battle and some would say Jo was lucky to get the seat this season to begin with…

Felipe Massa’s slow puncture

Massa was running in a very handy 6th place and was having a great weekend having already split the Red Bull’s in qualifying but a slow puncture forced Massa to pit late and, as a result, he fell to 9th place.

“I’m disappointed, we were just unlucky with the tyres. I was really taking care of the car and the tyres, keeping the gaps in the right place, and we had a sixth position in our pocket today. It is unfortunate and painful for the team that we have lost good points, but we can’t do anything about it. The car felt good, it was consistent with a good pace, I had a good start and first lap. I was around eight seconds ahead of Perez, we were just unlucky…”

— Felipe Massa

As Felipe said, nothing you can do about it but it’s unfortunate. He was on for some good points…

Australian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature Image: Sutton Motorsport Images

As soon as it came, it went. Round one of the 2017 season is in the books and it’s Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari who stand victorious for the first time since Singapore 2015.

Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas joined Vettel on the podium while Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Ocon round off the points positions.

It wasn’t the most spectacular race and people are complaining about the new regulations limiting overtaking, but the thing is it’s always difficult to overtake at Albert Park. Before this year, there had been less than 50 overtakes in the last two years — it’s not a place, historically, where a lot of overtakes happen. So don’t blame the new regulations or make judgements too quickly on the new regulations. Let’s see what happens in China and Bahrain. We’ll know more then.

Winners

Honourable mentions:

Felipe Massa for his 6th place finish, the supersoft tyres and the drivers who selected the supersoft tyres for their second stints (most noticeably, Max Verstappen and Massa) Toro Rosso for a double points score, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat for a great race that underlined his abilities (a possible 7th place taken away from him due to an engine issue that forced him to pit a second time) and, finally, Lance Stroll for showing solid pace and keeping his car in one piece (including some good evasive action in the first corner) before a brake disc failure forced him to retire.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari and Formula One

It’s been a long time coming, and in the words of Sergio Marchionne (Ferrari CEO) “it’s about time”.

For Sebastian Vettel, it’s his 43rd race victory, his fourth for Ferrari and his first since Singapore 2015. Last year we kind of saw Vettel wonder in the wilderness but it’s good to see him back where he belongs at the sharp end of the grid.

“…It’s just the beginning and there’s still a lot of work going on. This is one of many steps and we have to enjoy what we do…”

 

— Sebastian Vettel

For Ferrari, this race confirms that their pace is truly, um, true, and now we can finally look forward to another team finally taking it to Mercedes. In fact, this is the first time Ferrari and a non-Mercedes driver have led both championships in the hybrid-era.

Ferrari’s decision to run longer than Mercedes in the first stint was an inspired one and it proved to be the turning point in the race (as well as getting a little luck with Hamilton feeding in behind Max Verstappen). But regardless of this, Vettel was catching Hamilton just before he pitted and was just managing his pace behind the Mercedes — they had an answer for anything Hamilton did/would’ve done. They were just the faster team today.

“…Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today…”

 

— Toto Wolff

This result was exactly what the sport needed and it’s going to be exciting to see these two teams go toe-to-toe for 20 rounds but, just as has been the approach all through testing, Ferrari aren’t getting carried away.

“…This is only the first race of the championship: there are still 19 to go and we must maintain a high level of concentration at every Grand Prix, avoiding distractions and, already as from today, we are looking ahead to the next Grand Prix in China.”

 

— Maurizio Arrivabene

Mercedes on the back foot after race one, a perfect way (from a neutral’s perspective) to start the season…

Valterri Bottas

Despite finishing in P3, Valterri Bottas can be proud of how close he finished behind his much more illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Though the final split was 1.3 seconds (due to Hamilton backing off at the end), Bottas whittled a six second gap to 2.3-ish seconds and it stayed that way for a good chunk of the second stint. Finishing a comfortable 11 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Bottas did what he was supposed to do and kept Hamilton honest enough while he was at it.

“…once we stuck on the Softs I had a great feeling with the car. It was behaving really nicely and it felt really nice to drive. It’s a shame it was just a bit too late. But overall this race wasn’t a disaster. It’s good to start with a podium with a new team and every position is important for the Championship. There’s a long season ahead. I have my points and I’ll do better next time. I’m looking forward to China.”

 

— Valterri Bottas

A solid, solid weekend for Valterri Bottas.

Force India, Esteban Ocon and Bob Furnley’s trousers

A good weekend for the men in pink (that’s a little odd to say, now that I think about it…). A double points finish for Force India, Sergio Perez finishing 7th while Esteban Ocon scored the first point of his career with a 10th place finish, which he took with a great move on Fernando Alonso who he was racing for most of the race, however Alonso was beginning to struggle with a suspension issue that forced him to retire shortly after he was passed.

“Scoring my first point in Melbourne is a very nice reward after what has been quite a tough weekend. I spent almost the entire race fighting against Fernando [Alonso] because we were side-by-side for the first lap of the race. He was able to stay ahead and I had to chase him for the rest of the afternoon. It was a hard fight because Fernando is a tough opponent and it was so difficult to get close and overtake. Eventually I found a gap in the last few laps and took my chance going into turn one. It was a big moment for my race and took me into the points. I’m happy with the result and I feel I’ve learned a huge amount from my first race weekend with this team. I hope this is the first point of many this season.”

 

— Esteban Ocon

And, finally, Deputy Team Principal, Bob Furnley, was a popular man in the paddock this weekend largely thanks to his pink trousers, matching the car’s colour scheme since the team haven’t got the pink overalls yet in light of their new deal with BWT.

Those are just fantastic. Great effort, Bob.

Fernando Alonso

Were it not for a suspension failure, Fernando Alonso was, somehow, looking good for a world championship point. He kept the much, much superior Force India of Esteban Ocon behind him for a while. How?? I know Australia is a difficult place to overtake but even still, that’s an incredible achievement. In fact, Alonso described the race as one of the best he’s ever done.

“In terms of driving, I probably had one of my very best races today. I was able to drive the car at my maximum; I felt confident, and I enjoyed driving the car throughout the race – I was able to push…”

 

— Fernando Alonso

Despite this, Fernando went on to say that on a “normal circuit” McLaren should be “last and second last”, which was interesting hear him say despite how much he extracted from the car. In that case, I’ll take stab and say that Monaco and Singapore are going to be highlights of McLaren’s and Alonso’s season…

Losers

Honourable mentions:

Kimi Raikkonen (and how tricky setups can be), the ultrasoft tyre (which drivers were delighted to shed after the first stint) and Jolyon Palmer who just had a horrible weekend.

Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull

As if starting in 10th position after an accident in qualifying wasn’t bad enough for Danny Ric at his home grand prix, the Australian had to take a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox before his Red Bull found itself stuck in sixth gear on his lap heading to the grid. Ted Kravitz of Sky Sports F1 reporting that it was a sensor on the gear box that caused the issue. The Red Bull mechanics eventually got Ricciardo and the car back to garage and going, albeit from the pitlane and two laps down.

The home crowd saw 26 laps of Danny Ric before a fuel cell failure forced him to retire, rounding up a terrible weekend for the Aussie.

“Not the weekend I wanted at home. For all these things to happen at my home race that’s probably the most frustrating thing. We were on the back foot already after the crash in qualifying and then today we had an issue during the warm up lap followed by a second issue in the race. On both occasions the car just came to a stop so I couldn’t do anything else. But look, it’s the first race so hopefully we’ll move forward from this. Sure I’m disappointed now but it is what it is. I’ve been here before so I’ll wake up tomorrow and be motivated to get ready for China…”

 

— Daniel Ricciardo

Max Verstappen did the best job he could but Red Bull were, worryingly, finished almost half a minute behind race-winner Vettel. For a team who, behind Adrian Newey’s technical genius, had been expected to excel under the new regulations, they were very disappointing. Their testing issues/concerns were true after all.

“…Looking ahead to China I think we need to keep working hard on the car, race pace was good but you can still see we are not quick enough in certain situations.”

 

— Max Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

Uh-oh. There’s finally another team capable of taking victories away from Mercedes that aren’t caused by accidents or reliability issues.

Lewis Hamilton struggled with his ultrasoft tyres and he made the call to pit on lap 17 to exchange his ultrasofts for softs. Unfortunately for Hamilton, he popped right behind Max Verstappen on-track and he couldn’t get past despite his race engineer, Pete Bonnington, telling him it was “race critical” to get past him. Vettel, of course, emerged ahead of Hamilton after his pitstop and, from there, Vettel was always in full control.

“…I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker. Towards the end of the first stint I caught some traffic and that overheated the tyres. I struggled for grip to the point where I needed to come in, plus the gap was closing up and I was sliding around a lot. We made the call to pit, because otherwise I think Sebastian would have come past me anyway. After my stop I got caught in some traffic which was unfortunate but that’s motor racing.”

 

— Lewis Hamilton

For Mercedes, they were just second best on the day:

“Some races you win, some races you lose, and when the days come where another team has done a better job, you need to accept that with humility and recognise their performance. Today, Sebastian and Ferrari were well-deserved winners. From the early stages of the race, it was clear that Sebastian was very quick because Lewis wasn’t able to pull away. Sebastian came into the window where the undercut was possible and we had the feeling at that point that the tyres were not lasting. It was the team’s impression on the pit wall looking at the data and Lewis’ in the car, too. So that was when, with all the clear risks of coming out in traffic, we took the decision to come in. We were between a rock and a hard place, really, and we went for it. But Ferrari played it very well – and they had the quicker car today…”

 

— Toto Wolff

Mercedes aren’t in any major trouble right now but they are definitely behind in terms of pace. They were well beaten by Ferrari today and they know it. This is the first time in the Hybrid-era where Mercedes have started on the back foot, now we’ll see how what their response is in what appears to be their biggest challenge yet.

Haas

A day filled with so much promise ended in disaster for the Haas team. Romain Grosjean did a great job sticking his Haas on the third row on Saturday, but lost a position to Felipe Massa at the start of the race before retiring from 7th with a water leak.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car. It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6…I’m feeling it right now, but tomorrow I’m going to wake up thinking, you know what, we’ve got a great car, so no matter what, we’re going to be there this year.” 

 

— Romain Grosjean

Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, had a rocky start to his Haas career, spinning Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson around in Turn 3 on the first lap, requiring him to make an unscheduled trip the pits. Magnussen’s race was already ruined by this point and he wouldn’t get the opportunity to finish the race, forced into retirement with a suspension failure.

“I had contact at turn three. I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit. We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast. That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

 

— Kevin Magnussen

A disappointing end to a promising weekend for the Haas team but they’ll have more opportunities for points, their car does seem like one of the better ones out of the Williams, Renault, Force India, McLaren and Toro Rosso midfield scrap.

“Not the race we wished for, or we expected…The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast…”

 

— Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

Field spread

Qualifying highlighted an area of potential concern: the grid is as top-heavy now as it’s possibly ever been, certainly in the modern era. You look at the qualifying splits, there’s a huge drop-off after the Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ and even larger drop-offs after that.

The gap separating 1st and 9th is a whopping 2.4 seconds. That’s just a lot amount of time in F1 to be trailing by ,even if you were 20th on the grid let alone 9th/10th…

This concerning difference in pace was confirmed in the race. Max Verstappen finished almost half a minute behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, while Felipe Massa — in 6th place — finished almost a minute behind Verstappen in 5th, and behind Massa everyone else was lapped, lapped in a race that lasted just 1 hour, 24 minutes. That’s quite concerning and FIA President Jean Todt was also concerned about the pace “discrepancy” between teams and has called for F1 to reduce its massive spending:

“There is too big a discrepancy (of pace) between the smallest and the biggest budget.”

 

— Jean Todt, FIA President

Bar reliability issues and incidents, it’s going to be hard to see any team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull making the podium this season based on pure pace or even strategy, the gap is just so wide.

Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Round-Up

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

Finally. All the sandbagging and mind games over which team is going to be faster than the other ended on Saturday as teams, for the first time, finally pushed these new 2017 cars to their full ability. In the end, it was Lewis Hamilton who took a record equalling sixth Australian Grand Prix pole position ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Valterri Bottas.

What were some of the other storylines from qualifying?

Ferrari pace is true

True to winter testing, the pace Ferrari showed has carried over to Melbourne, Sebastian Vettel managing to split the Mercedes at the top of the grid while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top four, albeit nine-tenths behind Hamilton. Raikkonen had been complaining about the balance of his car during qualifying but will have a great opportunity of a podium finish tomorrow.

“I made life complicated for myself right from the first session: I never managed to put all the sectors together and that cost me lap time. But the car feels strong and I just have to do better.

“Apart from that we have a really good package, it is a very special place here.”

— Kimi Raikkonen

Lewis Hamilton is also expecting a “real race” between the Ferrari’s tomorrow. Let’s hope so.

Off goes Ricciardo, Red Bull off the pace

The home crowd were to be left in disappointment after Australian native Daniel Ricciardo spun and crashed his Red Bull in Q3, bringing out the red flag.

As Martin Brundle mentioned in commentary, it’s very unusual for a car to have an accident at that part of the track (Turn 14).

One of the hopes with this regulation change is that these cars would be harder to drive and I think, given the other accidents that have happened this weekend, that’s been successful. These cars definitely have more of a bite to them, harder to save.

For Ricciardo, he’s obviously very disappointed and it remains to be seen if there’s a further penalty yet for him should he need to change that gearbox.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home. But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top 5. I feel for the mechanics, because they’ve had a long week and now they’ve got a long night ahead of them. I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are. It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright. To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultrasofts in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

 Daniel Ricciardo

Red Bull, meanwhile are disappointingly off the pace. Everyone thought they had sandbagged testing and that added to the fact there were new parts going onto the car in Melbourne led everyone to believe that Red Bull would be contending at the top with Mercedes and Ferrari. But that wasn’t to be. The Red Bull is quite a bit off the pace, Max Verstappen’s quickest qualifying time was almost 1.3 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s pole time. Verstappen, team boss Christian Horner and Red Bull aren’t too optimistic ahead of tomorrow’s race.

“Our best hope tomorrow is a clean start because we don’t have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and Mercedes. I’m realistic. So probably a very lonely race as behind me there is also quite a big gap.”

— Max Verstappen

“The pace at the sharp end is just a little bit too much for us at the moment.”

— Christian Horner

Romain Grosjean pulls the rabbit from the hat, Magnussen struggles

What a day for Romain Grosjean and Haas — sixth place, Haas’s best ever qualifying result. No one expected Haas to anywhere near that but Grosjean made the magic happen. He knew straightaway it was a great lap, as was the one that advanced him into Q3.

Grosjean’s teammate, Kevin Magnussen, on the other hand struggled and failed to advance from Q1, and will lineup 17th tomorrow which is a shame because the pace that Grosjean has showcased that car is capable of a points finish tomorrow.

“Went off the track in turn 12 on both of my laps – really annoyed with that. The car was there in qualifying. My lap was good until I went off. Both times my lap was good. I’m disappointed with that. We should’ve been a lot further up the grid. Now, I have to fight quite hard in the race. There’s still a lot that can happen and I will give it my best tomorrow.

“The good thing is the car looks competitive. Romain made it to Q3, which shows the potential of the car. I’m pretty sure I could’ve been very close to that if I hadn’t messed up and got off the track. I think I was just too keen to make up for my slow start to the weekend. I had a few places that I knew I had to sort out, and when you’re in qualifying trying to sort out things like that, it’s not optimal. It would’ve been nice to do that in practice, but that’s the situation I was in and I messed up by going off the track two times.

“I went for it and twice it went wrong. The first time I did it flat out to see where the limit was and I went off. The second time I asked for a little bit more front wing and I went a bit slower to get it right, but I didn’t get it right. It’s very annoying when you see how good the car is. I’m gutted not to be up there and give myself a better chance at some points.”

— Kevin Magnussen

Some things don’t change between Perez and Hulkenburg

You can’t separate these two can you? After forming a strong partnership in their four years as teammates, only .010 of a second separates Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenburg on the grid (Perez pipping Hulkenburg to 11th), despite the latter moving to Renault over the winter. Although, to be fair, Perez probably would’ve made it into Q3 were it not for an engine issue (engine hesitation as he described it) and his hot-lap being, slightly, compromised by Felipe Massa.

Outside of that, Force India’s pace was a little disappointing, Esteban Ocon qualifying 14th.

“The potential was certainly there for us to make Q3, but Sergio didn’t have the cleanest lap during his final run of Q2 and he missed the top ten by a whisker. Esteban is still finding his feet with the team and is on a very steep learning curve. He’s taken a very mature approach so far and is gradually building his confidence and speed with this car. He made good progress during the session and he knows there is more to come. It’s a long race tomorrow so let’s see what happens. Scoring points with both cars remains the objective.”

— Robert Furnley, Deputy Team Principle

Renault meanwhile, will be disappointed to have their cars so far apart, Jolyon Palmer starting from 19th on the grid (promoted from 20th on the count of Lance Stroll having to take a grid penalty for a gearbox change).

“Today really didn’t go to plan. I didn’t have any grip and I struggled with the brakes so we need to know what went wrong. Yesterday the car felt much better and was faster on the soft tyres, with a much higher fuel load, so there’s something not quite right. It’s been pretty far from the weekend I wanted to start the season so far, but let’s see what happens in the race.”

— Jolyon Palmer

Giovinazzi almost embarrasses Ericsson

Standing in for Pascal Wehrlein this weekend, Antonio Giovinazzi almost put his much more experienced teammate (for the weekend) Marcus Ericsson to shame. Were it not for a mistake in the final sector, Giovinazzi probably would’ve made it Q2 and ahead of Ericsson.

You’d imagine Giovinazzi will land a permanent F1 sear eventually but he can proud of the job he’s done so far this weekend.

“That is a special day for me kicking off my first Formula One Grand Prix weekend. I am really happy with my performance today, I was just a few tenths away from Q2. It will be a long race tomorrow; a lot can happen here in Melbourne. I will do my best to put in my maximum performance.”

— Antonio Giovinazzi

Throw-Ins

McLaren had an O.K. day. Fernando Alonso did everything he could to drag this car to 13th on the grid but Stoffel Vandoorne had fuel pressure issue and he qualified 18th in the end.

“I had a fuel pressure issue in Q1 and had to abort my first two runs as the engine was running low on power. That was a shame – because, after FP3, everything was heading in the right direction and I was feeling confident. But it’s always difficult when you only get one opportunity to set a time because you can’t take risks and have to make it really count.

“Still, we’ve made some good steps forward this weekend: Fernando and I both feel more comfortable in the car, and that confidence means we’re able to push it a little bit more.

“Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but we can take some positives from the potential we’ve shown so far this weekend, and I think we can have a good race tomorrow.”

— Stoffel Vandoorne

Mixed day also at Williams, Felipe Massa did a great job to stick his Williams in 7th position while Lance Stroll was on the back foot having crashed in FP3.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t a great day for Lance with his accident in FP3. It really set his whole day off to a bad start, from which it was difficult to recover. There was a lot of work needed on the car; we changed the entire back-end as well as most of the front suspension. The team worked very hard to get the car ready for qualifying but there was only time for him to get one run in the first session. Under huge pressure and with not very much practice in the car in any sort of qualifying format I think that Lance did a good job to get that time on the board. On Felipe’s side it was actually a very good day…”

— Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer

At Toro Rosso, it was a solid day. Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat line up 8th and 9th tomorrow. Great opportunity for some points tomorrow.

“…It’s tomorrow that counts; we’ve got two cars ahead of us that we’d like to take on – we want to be the best of the rest behind the top three teams, so clearly we have a target there. Equally, we have people behind us that we know will be very competitive too, so we’re looking forward to an exciting and I suspect very close race tomorrow.”

— James Key, Technical Director

Head-to-head qualifying

This will be fun to track throughout the year, the inter-team battles.

Lewis Hamilton 1-0 Valterri Bottas
Sebatian Vettel 1-0 Kimi Raikkonen
Daniel Ricciardo 0-1 Max Verstappen
Felipe Massa 1-0 Lance Stroll
Sergio Perez 1-0 Esteban Ocon
Fernando Alonso 1-0 Stoffel Vandoorne
Carlos Sainz 1-0 Daniil Kvyat
Romain Grosjean 1-0 Kevin Magnussen
Nico Hulkenburg 1-0 Jolyon Palmer
Marcus Ericsson 1-0 Antonio Giovinazzi

Interesting that only Daniel Ricciardo was the only number one driver (as such) to be out-qualified by his teammate although we’ll never know if Ricciardo would’ve out-qualified Verstappen or not.

Qualifying always throws out the odd shock here and there, let’s hope for a good race tomorrow.

F1 2017 Season Preview & Predictions

Feature image: Sutton Images

It’s finally here. The most anticipated season of Formula One in recent memory is just around the corner.

The beautiful thing heading into this season is no one knows what to expect. Yes, we’ve had a taster in winter testing, so we have a fair idea who’s on the pace and who’s not but you can’t call what we saw in Barcelona definitive. Teams hold back/run heavier and new parts arrive in between/at the first grand prix. So you can expect some teams to slide up and down the order that we saw in testing when it comes to pace.

Can anyone halt the raging Silver Arrows from taking their fourth consecutive drivers and constructors titles?

Changes

Quite a few changes to note around the F1 paddock.

The most obvious/talked about changes are the regulation changes. In short, cars should fly much faster thanks to fatter tyres, a lower rear wing and a larger diffuser.

Nico Rosberg does not return to defend his crown after announcing his shock retirement just days after winning the title showdown in Abu Dhabi (some say his arse cheeks are still clenched, and I wouldn’t blame him to be fair). Mercedes filled the void he left with Williams’ Valterri Bottas.

Stoffel Vandoorne replaces the outgoing/retiring Jenson Button to partner Fernando Alonso to create what promises to be a very interesting driver lineup at McLaren-Honda. The last time Alonso was paired with a highly rated rookie/young driver (sorry, Nelson Piquet Jr.) was 2007 and we all know what happened then…

Other driver changes include the return of the retiring Felipe Massa, who was called upon as soon as the possibility of Williams losing Bottas to Mercedes was realistic. Massa joins paydriver and rookie Lance Stroll. The Canadian is going to have his hands full and, if winter testing was anything to go by, it could be a long year indeed…

Elsewhere, the Manor team will not be taking to the grid this year (the team went into administration in January) and its drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon were forced to look elsewhere for race seats. Ocon netted the much better gig of the two, landing a seat at Force India seat, vacated by Nico Hulkenburg who joined Renault. Wehrlein, meanwhile, signed for Sauber replacing Felipe Nasr. And, finally, Kevin Magnussen departed Renault and signed a three-year deal with Haas and he replaces Esteban Gutierrez.

Bernie Ecclestone is no longer calling the shots. F1’s new owners, the Liberty Group, are now in charge. Chase Carey is the man now, flanked by marketing guru Sean Bratches and the legendary Ross Brawn, formerly of Mercedes and Ferrari.

There are two changes to the F1 calendar. The German Grand Prix is knocked off the schedule due to financial issues while Baku, Azerbaijan are still hosting a race, however it will be called the Azerbaijan Grand Prix instead of the European Grand Prix as it was last year.

A number of key technical personnel swapped places during the. At Williams, Pat Symonds steps aside and he is replaced by Paddy Lowe, who was ousted from leaves Mercedes and rejoins his first team (1987-1993, his first stint with the team). At Mercedes, former Ferrari technical director James Allison joins the Silver Arrows after having left Ferrari last year.

There’s an interesting new rule brought in regarding wet-weather restarts following a safety car. When a safety car is called upon to begin a race, the fans lose the excitement of a wet-weather start. We all want to see it. Now we will. Once a wet track is deemed safe enough to race on at full speed — and no longer requires the safety car to guide them around — the safety car will peel into the pit lane and the cars will form up on the grid and will prepare for a standing start. We can all agree this is a much happier solution for the fans, who get to see a standing start in the wet no matter what.

There are quite a number of livery changes this season. Some good, some not so good.

McLaren:

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Sauber:

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Renault:

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Toro Rosso:

(Who have also switched their engine supplier from Ferrari to Renault)

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Haas:

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Force India:

(Better late than never)

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New regulations, more problems?

A lot of people are excited for the new regulations and hoping that they will create a more competitive race to the silverware. But could they actually reduce the number of overtakes?

To start, with the cars now being able to take more speeds into the corners meaning — in theory — that braking points should be even later than they are, meaning the overtaking car is going to have to use straight line speed — with the help of DRS — to position himself on the inside line in order to overtake into a corner, rather than dive-bomb right as the braking zone approaches. That could be an issue, not to mention that cars actually wider, since the tyres are wider.

The other issue is that no one really knows how well these cars follow each other on the track. In testing, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was trailing a Haas and Hamilton said he found it very difficult to follow the Haas.

I’m very concerned. Overtakes are such an important aspect of this sport. If these cars can’t overtake each other the races are not going to be fun, no matter how many teams are contending. Time will tell.

Predictions

Drivers champion: Lewis Hamilton

I really wanted to tip a Ferrari driver to win the title but I do think Mercedes have been holding back and, as such, still have the best car and I just don’t see Valterri Bottas besting Lewis Hamilton over the course of a season. I just can’t imagine any other driver winning the title other than Hamilton. I would love to be wrong, I really would but I guess we shall see…

Constructors champion: Ferrari

While I think Lewis Hamilton is going to have a great season, I do not predict the same for Valterri Bottas (shades of Heikki Kovalainen come to mind) and I think Ferrari have the better driver lineup to take advantage. If Mercedes are ahead, I do think Ferrari are going to be close and I expect Raikkonen and Vettel to better Bottas over the course of a season and, as such, take the constructors title.

Best driver of the rest: Sebastian Vettel

This is assuming that Ferrari haven’t lost all of their pace by the time the lights go out in Australia. Vettel has had a few frustrating seasons now and it’s easy to forget, in the midst of mediocrity, that he’s four-time champion. I think this is the season that he reminds every one of that fact. Whether he actually wins the championship is another thing, but people will be talking about Sebastian Vettel at the front of the grid this season.

Best team of the rest: Williams

When I say “best of the rest” when it comes to constructors, I’m talking about fourth place behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. Even though Williams don’t have the strongest drive lineup, they showed some good pace in testing and Felipe Massa knows his way around. They may not finish fourth in the standings (on account of Lance Stroll probably crashing out of a few races), but I think they’ll have the fourth fastest car.

Best in-team fight: Daniel Ricciardo vs. Max Verstappen

These two have been pretty friendly toward each other but put them in a car that can compete for championships and it’s going to be a different story. These two have shown they don’t back down for anyone…there’s a fire in both of them and they won’t back down for each other that’s for sure. It would make for a great battle but it won’t happen if the car isn’t competing for titles.

Most one-sided in-team fight: Felipe Massa vs. Lance Stroll

Not much to say here. Massa is going to crush the inexperienced Stroll. The whole paydriver thing, added to a shaky winter testing showing, worries me greatly.

First driver to be replace this mid-season: Daniil Kvyat

If there was a driver who was going to be replaced mid-season, I would guess it would be Daniil Kvyat. When you look around the grid, Lance Stroll won’t be let go, he’s paying Williams too much money. Marcus Ericsson is also paying for his ride and Sauber need that money. The only other driver who could be in contention here if things don’t go well might be Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.

With Kvyat, he’s already on a bit of a slippery slope after last season’s unfortunate collapse and with Red Bull reserve driver, and 2017 GP2 Champion, Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the pressure is going to be on Kvyat all season.

Most improved driver: Jolyon Palmer

Palmer ended the 2016 season with a good set of results: 10th in Malaysia, 12th in Japan, 13th in the US and 14th in Mexico suffering just one retirement in the final seven races.

Some would consider it luck that it was he who Renault retained and I think Palmer will prove critics wrong this season in an improved Renault but he will have his work cut out going up against a much more experienced Nico Hulkenburg.

Most disappointing driver: Valterri Bottas

This isn’t to say Bottas won’t have a good season, but in comparison with Lewis Hamilton and what that Mercedes could achieve, I don’t think Bottas will be able to outperform expectations. In my opinion, it’ll be Bottas mixing it up with the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s while Lewis Hamilton will be running away at the front. Again, shades of Heikki Kovalainen.

Most improved team: Renault

Having had time to develop their own car, rather than re-paint the 2015 Lotus, and having a bit of cash to inject into the new car you’d imagine that Renault will make a decent leap this season. You’d imagine they’ll be contenting for regular points finishes and with a driver like Nico Hulkenburg, you’d imagine that will come to be.

Most disappointing team: McLaren

We’ve had a glimpse of McLaren’s woefully poor pace in testing and, unless things have changed dramatically since winter testing, you’d imagine that McLaren are still going to be slow in Australia. Fernando Alonso will work his magic and Stoffel Vandoorne will impress a lot of people but it’s not going to be enough to hide McLaren’s disappointment on a season that promised to be full of hope and progress.

F1 2017 Winter Testing Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

I never understood why they called this “winter testing” when it’s March but oh well…

Winter testing is over! The next time we’ll see F1 cars on the track is when the season kicks off in Albert Park in Australia. We’re close…so close.

With F1’s 2017 regulation changes, we had no idea who would set the pace in testing, as the regulation changes gave everyone a chance to change their fortunes. Now that testing is over, we have a clearer idea who’s performing as they should, who isn’t and who’s exceededing expectations. Which leads me to today’s topic: Who were the winners and losers of F1’s winter tests?

Winners

(Honourable mention: Williams for looking like the best of the rest. Valterri Bottas for not completely being outclassed by Lewis Hamilton)

Ferrari

The SF-70H looks like an incredible machine but Ferrari have been very intentional as to not get carried away nor state their expectations. They’ve been top of the timing sheets in winter testing in the past and their car didn’t deliver when it came time to go racing.  But it’s not just Ferrari, but Sebastian Vettel too.

Having been the pace setters throughout the two tests, Ferrari may have shown us a sneak-peak of what is to come on the final day as Kimi Raikkonen set an incredible lap time of 1:18.634 on supersoft tyres, not even the softest of the tyre compounds. A time too quick to ignore, even if it is testing.

No other team even came close to a sub 1:19 lap time, the closest coming in the form of Mercedes and Valterri Bottas, who set a time of 1:19.310 on day six of testing. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton believe that Ferrari haven’t even shown their true pace as of yet:

“I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing.”

“They’re very close to us. It’s difficult right now to say exactly who is quicker. But they are very close, if not faster.”

— Lewis Hamilton

Mind games or genuine concern from Mercedes? Time will tell how Ferrari stack up against Mercedes on race-weekend but, make no mistake, this car could be something special…

Mercedes

Normally when there’s a regulations change, the top teams from the previous era (as such) have been known to struggle but there doesn’t seem to be any such concern with Mercedes who are still the team to beat, despite Ferrari’s pace.

Mercedes have focused on a lot of long runs and reliability, reliability was what dogged them — more so Lewis Hamilton — last season. Mercedes completed the most laps of any team: 1,096. That’s 140 more than Ferrari (who completed the second most testing laps) and 296 more than Williams (who completed the third most testing laps). But make no mistake, the Silver Arrows are still very quick, posting the second team quickest time behind Ferrari.

In light if Ferrari’s testing pace, Mercedes have been cautious and have said that they cannot be confident that they are still the fastest team:

“We are definitely not confident that we are in front. We are not relaxing, we are not in a comfortable situation at all. We do feel that the other teams have made good progress over the winter.”

“Ferrari are looking very strong, Red Bull can always surprise, and other teams can be strong. But Ferrari look solid, strong and fast – and who knows what people will bring to Melbourne.

“We should not underestimate them at all. We’re not saying we’re number one, we’re just working flat-out.”

— Valterri Bottas

Teammate Lewis Hamilton has not only praised Ferrari’s car but is also thinking of Red Bull, who he is expecting to show an improved outing in Australia:

“I don’t know if Red Bull have brought their upgrade package here but normally they bring it to the first race. I expect us to be having a real serious battle with both these teams.”

— Lewis Hamilton

To be fair, all of this talk from teams and drivers is probably 90% crap. It’s all mind games/teams not wanting to say that they’re the favourite and teams not — obviously — wanting to show their full hand at winter testing. The general feeling is that Mercedes have been running heavier than other teams throughout testing.

Mercedes are still the team to beat and show no signs of drifting away in their quest for a fourth straight title. They appear mightily quick…once again.

Losers

(Honourable mention: Lance Stroll for seeming like your standard pay driver)

McLaren Honda…but mostly Honda

What an absolute mess, what an absolute joke. So many people, including myself, were so excited for McLaren this year. We know they can produce a great chassis and people were expecting engine supplier Honda to, in year 3, finally show signs of producing a solid power unit that could possibly hang with Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes (oh, how foolish we were…). Added to that the unique opportunity given to McLaren to change their fortunes with the new regulation changes. A new lick of paint to boot…it seemed like this was the year McLaren could bounce back. But it has been all show and very, very little — if not, no — go.

It’s been failure after failure after failure for McLaren and Honda. Electrical issues, engine issues, fuel tank issues which Fernando Alonso described as “amateur problems”… And after all these problems the on-track product was just as bad. On a set of ultrasofts, McLaren could only post the ninth fastest lap out of the 10 teams with a 1:21.348. Only Sauber recorded a slower time, and only by three tenths of a second on supersofts…

This lack of progress, regression if anything, has obviously frustrated Fernando Alonso, who has pinned the blame to Honda.

“I don’t think we are too far back with the chassis, we have only one problem which is the power unit”

“There is no reliability and there is no power. We are 30kph down on the straight.”

— Fernando Alonso

Alonso expected a result “immediately”. What was McLaren’s response the next day?

Yep. Another problem, leading to a breakdown on the track.

McLaren’s “long-run” stints also don’t inspire much confidence — 11 laps… That was McLaren’s longest run. 11 flipping laps. They completed the least amount of total testing laps by far, 425. That’s 159 laps less than the team who ran the next fewest laps, Toro Rosso, 531 less than Ferrari and 671 less than Mercedes… Not good.

McLaren executive director, Zak Brown, has denied that the team are in a crisis:

“We have problems, clearly we have problems…but ‘crisis’ is a bit strong.”

— Zak Brown

If this isn’t a crisis…what is?? Regulation changes like this are supposed to help a team like McLaren go forward but, if winter testing has given any indication, McLaren have gone backwards… That sounds like a crisis to me.

Force India 

When the VJM10 was launched, owner Vijay Mallya described it as a “cracker of a car” and even targeted third place in the constructors standings, which would mean ousting one of Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes. Well…it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Force India at Barcelona.

Things seemed to just fine after week one of testing but Force India seem to have slipped a little bit as Test Two wound down. By the end of testing, Force India had set the 7th fastest team time, trailing Williams, Renault and Toro Rosso, as well as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. There appear to be a few issues with the car, the following little passages from Sky Sports eludes to a weight problem:

But is all entirely well with the car? Perhaps not: the talk in the paddock was of a car that was overweight and overly sensitive. Plenty of work still to do.

Targeting third was a huge goal to set to begin with but Force India — who took the title of “best of the rest” in 2016 with their fourth placed finish in the constructors — if their pace in winter testing to be believed, are set to be slugging it out with the midfield unless they can sort their issues out or unleash anything they may have been holding back.

F1 2017 Reveal Thoughts

(Feature image source: @MercedesAMGF1)

In what is essentially, in NBA terms, media day for Formula 1 — just spread across a week rather than one day — teams have been unveiling their challengers for the 2017 Formula 1 season. And these haven’t been your standard car unveilings, the massive regulation changes have made each of these unveilings special, as teams hold high hope for a change of fortune under the new regulations. Well, every team except Mercedes that is, who hope to continue their dominance of the sport.

Today, I’m just going to run through each teams’ unveiling and sprinkle in a thought or two — perhaps a few quotes where possible — about each teams’ unveiling. We’ll go in chronological order (in terms of who unveiled/revealed their car first). And, when we’re done with that, we’ll give out a few awards.

Williams

Williams were actually the first team to give the world a glimpse at their 2017 challenger in a mini-reveal on February 17th.

And if you’re too lazy to click/watch the video:

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As always with the Martini brand, the car looks fantastic. There’s always a white car in F1, in some capacity, and Williams’ latest car (The FW40) is no exception. It looks gorgeous. However… I’m not a huge fan of shark fins, they just look bad but almost every car is running with them this season so…you can’t really knock any team for that.

There haven’t been any quotes that I can see accompanying this fine machine (officially launched on February 25th). I’m curious to hear what their expectations/goals for this season are, surely unhappy with a fifth place finish in the constructors standing behind Force India.

This sport is better when Williams are good, so I’m hoping that Felipe Massa and rookie Lance Stroll have a great machine underneath them to challenge for podiums.

Sauber

Sauber revealed images for their 2017 challenger, the C36, on February 20th. Sauber hope to re-establish themselves as challengers amongst the top 10, but neutrals will already be satisfied with Sauber’s C36 for one reason: It no longer looks like absolute crap.

Here’s Sauber’s 2016 car, the C35:

This is a flattering angle and it still looks horrible.

Sauber, in honour of its 25th year in F1 — to the relief of many — gave the C36 a livery shakeup:

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I love it. Love the change of blue, love the added gold and love the replacement of the yellow on the side-pods in favour of white. I won’t mind driving this car in F1 2017 The Game…

Sauber are running with Ferrari’s 2016 power unit and say the car was “redesigned from scratch” and that “there is not a single part that could adopted from its C35 predecessor”.

That has to be encouraging if you’re a Sauber fan. This car can’t be much worse than last year’s car.

To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me whether this car is good or not. I do hope Pascal Wehrlein makes Force India regret choosing Esteban Ocon over him and that’s about all I have to say about Sauber for this season. Great job on the new paint though.

Renault

Renault were the first team to physically reveal their car — the R.S.17 — at a gathering on February 21st. They, just like Sauber, also decided to change their livery (R.I.P. banana car).

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Man, this looks absolutely fantastic. Very reminiscent, of course, from Renault’s 2010 car and other Renault cars of the past.

The team have set pretty high expectations too, targeting a rise to fifth in the constructors standings having finished a lowly 9th last season.

“For 2017 our performance targets are clear. We want to take a definite, tangible step forward in performance and results. Fifth position in the Constructors’ Championship is our goal.”

— Jerome Stroll, Renault Sport President

That’s a bold target, basically targeting top 10 finishes almost every weekend. Behind Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer, Renault certainly have the driver talent to make that a reality.

Renault might be a few years away from returning to F1’s pinnacle, but it would be nice for them to be good this season. Maybe Nico Hulkenberg will finally get the podium finish he has been well overdue…

Force India

Perhaps the surprise of last season was how good Force India truly were. They beat Williams — quite comfortably in the end — to fourth place in the constructors standings. Did you ever think you’d see this day when Force India first took to the grid in 2008? That only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari would be the only other teams to finish above Force India?  If you say yes…you’re a liar! No one saw this coming.

Force India revealed their new car, the VJM10, on February 22nd and they have very high targets, owner Vijay Mallya is targeting third in the constructors this season. In 2016, Force India finished 4th with 173 points. Ferrari, who finished 3rd, totalled 398 points, more than doubling Force India’s total. That’s a very big gap to make up, showing how confident and hopeful Mallya and Force India are for this car.

“We are dreaming big but we’re going to give it all we’ve got. All the data shows this is a cracker of a car.”

“We will always dream big – we have never ever had conversations, even in private, that we are not going to break into the top three.”

“If we did not dream big we would not have finished fourth in the championship last year. To be in the company of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari is a huge accomplishment in itself. That is certainly going to be our objective. We will give it our best shot.”

— Vijay Mallya

His first team driver, Sergio Perez (in what could potentially be his last season with the team), is very expectant too, believing Force India will be the surprise of the season.

“I expect a very big year for the team.”

“In none of the teams that I’ve been with in Formula 1 I’ve seen this level of confidence, organisation, everyone doing their jobs. We have plenty of reasons to be hoping for a great year. I think Force India will give a big surprise this year, I have a feeling we have done a tremendous job over the winter.”

“I think Force India will be the big surprise this year.”

“Last year we finished fourth, so I see no reason why we can’t improve that. As I said before, the base is very solid and there’s plenty of reasons to be hoping for that. That means a massive year for us…”

— Sergio Perez

Unfortunately, Force India have probably taken Sauber’s title of “Worst looking car” of the field with the VJM10. The team had adopted a black and silver base livery to go along with their streaks of green and orange.

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Test One - Day 1 -  Barcelona, Spain

Force India’s 2016 car, the VJM09 (Source: F1 Fanatic.com)

With the VJM10, however, the team have taken a, shall we say, different approach to the car’s visuals this season.

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A lot more silver and a lot less black and that, added to other changes such as the shark fin (which is sooo much more pronounced here than on any other car on the grid) and this bump in the nose, means that it’s just not an extremely pretty car to look at.

Despite that, I’m hugely excited for this car and what it could achieve (Force India are one of my favourite teams and eveything I hear makes me excited) but I’m not ecstatic about watching it from an aesthetical point of view.

Mercedes

The champions of the last three seasons launched the W08 on February 23rd and it looks absolutely fantastic. One of the best F1 cars I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

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2016 champion Nico Rosberg was also impressed by the W08.

Part of the reason why this car is so beautiful is that it’s shark fin isn’t nearly as pronounced as other teams’. I guess you could call it baby shark fin. Mercedes are the only team to run a smaller shark fin while everyone else went for the full great white shark scaled fins.

Mercedes have called this machine “a powerful beast”, which I would say is fairly damn accurate. Lewis Hamilton has said that this car “…is undoubtedly the most detailed car we have ever built as a team”. 

“The cars look so much better than they have in the past. I’m really hoping F1 is going to be super exciting this year for the fans and it will be a lot closer between the teams and that us drivers will be able to make more of a difference.”

— Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes are still the favourites to win it all this season and you can understand why. They obviously have huge expectations from themselves but aren’t getting too ahead of themselves. They know how things went in 2009, the last time the sport saw a huge overhaul in the regulations. The top powers the season prior, McLaren and Ferrari, were hopelessly off the pace to begin the year and didn’t accomplish much of anything that season, though the two teams picked up a few race wins.

If this car is as fast as it is beautiful…expect more Mercedes dominance.

Ferrari

Ferrari launched the SF70-H at Fiorano on February 24th, the team targeting a return to winning ways after a winless season in 2016.

It’s a big year for Ferrari. They had a lacklustre 2016 by their own standards, falling from the consensus second best team on the grid to the very clear third best, ousted by Red Bull time after time as the season went on. Makes you wonder if the team decided to just give up on 2016 and got a head start on the 2017 car…

Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have liked what they’ve seen and felt from the SF70-H and feel as though this is a step in the right direction.

“You can see it is a step forward and you can feel it is a step forward.”

“It is fun to drive. The car looks big and strong.”

“…the first impression is the right one. It was a good and a good start.”

— Sebastian Vettel

“It was just a first touch and the main work starts in Barcelona but so far so good.”

— Kimi Raikkonen

The car itself looks fantastic, Ferrari red is always very beautiful, as are the hints of white.

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You can see that the SF70-H has a strange little wing at the end of the shark fin, no other team boasts a feature quite like this. Are Ferrari onto something with this or has every other team not run with one for a reason?

The sport needs Ferrari to be competitive, hopefully the SF70-H can launch Ferrari into title contention.

McLaren

In what was probably the most anticipated reveal, McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on February 24th. As rumoured and teased, the car featured a whole lot of orange.

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I was unsure of the black on the sides, but seeing the car in the garage and on the track, I think it looks great.

In terms of performance and what the car could actually achieve, there’s a sense of curiosity about the paddock. McLaren are the only team running Honda powered engines (everyone else runs either Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault engines) and everyone is wondering about McLaren and Honda.

“It’s a big unknown for us what Honda will have done in terms of engine development because I am sure McLaren is capable of producing a very decent car, in particular with such a dramatic change to the aero regulations.”

“Then I think it will be interesting to see the mix. I expect Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, in no particular order – we should be fighting against Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso. The question is McLaren.”

—  Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport Racing Managing Director

You’d imagine that Honda will have put together a power unit that will enable McLaren to compete and run a little more with the likes of those Mercedes and Reanult engines. Will they eclipse those engine suppliers in terms of engine performance? Unlikely, but like Cyril said, no one really knows.

Team boss Eric Boullier is optimistic about the MCL32 and McLaren’s driver lineup:

“It’s the engineering detail on the MCL32 that really impresses me. The chassis is incredibly well realised, the power unit has been significantly developed and, in Fernando and Stoffel [Vandoorne], we have a hugely exciting driver pairing that’s already blending really well.”

“There’s a feeling around the factory that we’re about to turn the corner.”

— Eric Boullier

While Fernando Alonso has described the car as “spectacular”, he is remaining grounded about the team’s chances but believes that as the season progresses McLaren will too:

“We still think the start of the season will be a challenge – we can’t ignore the fact that we’re still coming from a significant step behind the current front-runners.”

“But I’d like to think we can target the second half of the year as a time when we’ll really be able to start making useful performance steps.”

“The aim is to look respectable this year – and I’d like to think we can achieve that.”

— Fernando Alonso

McLaren’s Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale, acknowledges that McLaren aren’t likely to be running around at the front of the grid, but holds optimism that McLaren are headed in the right direction:

“The journey ahead isn’t going to be easy, and I’ve emphasised that to everyone. We’ve made progress in the past 12 months, but we’re not where we need to be and we expect on-track competition to be fierce. “

“Do I believe we’ll be back at the front this year? Realistically, probably not quite yet, no. But do I think we’ll continue to make meaningful improvement as a team? Absolutely.”

“And that’s our aim: to make progress by establishing the proper and correct, if sometimes difficult, changes that are needed to go forward. “

“We can’t predict where that will leave us – particularly on the eve of a new season of regulatory upheaval and uncertainty – but as a team we have many talented and driven individuals and we’re restless about continuing to do whatever is needed to make us competitive.”

— McLaren Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale

Hopefully this car can defy expectations. The sport is much better when McLaren are challengers and the sport needs, arguably, the best driver on this entire grid, Fernando Alonso, to be in front running once again.

Red Bull

Red Bull don’t believe in superstition, they’re not afraid of a number.

The RB13 was unveiled on February 26th and many believe that this will be the car who will give Mercedes the best run for their money in 2017. But team principal Christian Horner acknowledges that Mercedes will still be the team to beat:

“We’ve been quite good with regulation changes before, but nothing can be taken for granted. Mercedes will be the favourites, but if we can narrow that gap down and put them under a bit of pressure it would be great for everyone.”

— Christian Horner

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Source: @RedBullRacing

This seems to be the only close up image of the RB13 as of Feb. 26th and it looks as though it’s pretty much the exact same car as last season only with a shark fin. Which is fine, because the RB12 was a very good-looking car and the RB13 is no different.

We’ll see in due time how lucky the RB13 will prove to be…

Haas

Haas are looking to follow-up their impressive debut season with another strong campaign behind their new challenger, the VF-17. A few leaked images suggested that Haas have dipped their car into a lot of grey paint and that was confirmed when they revealed images of their car on February 26th.

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The car looks great from the front, but I’m not sure about the grey from other angles… I thought this was all black, with the hints of red, originally and that would’ve been great but I’m not sure about the grey replacing the white of last year.

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Source: @HaasF1Team

That’s all I have to say about Haas’ car reveal. Missed opportunity to go with a black and red livery and it’s not as nice as last year’s car.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso were the final team to reveal their 2017 car, the STR12, on February 26th. They were believed to have changed their livery too and they certainly did, as it turned out. Quite extensively too.

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For reference, here is last year’s Toro Rosso, the STR11:

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This new design is very distinctive from all other Toro Rosso challengers, and Red Bull for that matter. It’ll probably grow on me as time goes on.

Of course — similar to pretty much all the other cars — the shark fin is present and, as always, it’ll be interesting to see how Toro Rosso stack up against parent team Red Bull, McLaren (Toro Rosso’s main rivals from last season) and Renault.

Awards

Best looking car: Mercedes

Worst looking car: Force India

Best new livery change: McLaren (honourable mention to Renault)

Worst new livery change: Haas

Testing begins in Barcelona on February 27th. Bring. The. New. Season. On.

How much longer for F1’s Golden Generation?

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

The field of the 2017 Formula One grid is a mosh pit of multi-cultural and multi-generational drivers who all share the same goal: to win a Formula One World Championship. But, sadly, it’s a cutthroat industry. Formula One is a very selective sport, a revolving door of the world’s greatest racing talent. Yesterday’s potential is today’s performance and there’s no guarantee of a tomorrow for many young drivers who fight to make their name. Very few get to truly leave on their own terms.

It’s interesting to cast an eye up and down the grid and reflect where *insert driver name here* has come from and think about his career, or imagine what *insert driver name here* could accomplish in his career. Experience is so key in this sport and it comes in all sorts of different forms throughout the grid. In fact, when it comes to experience, you can place the field of the 2017 Formula One grid into three categories:

The up-and-comers/young pups/rookies 

(Drivers who have raced in F1 from 0-4 seasons)

These are drivers that are either brand new to the sport or are still learning/improving their craft. Others, meanwhile, are a little more established but are still learning what it takes to win/win consistently.

(Bracketed information represents what season said driver debuted and their current team)

Valtteri Bottas (2013, Mercedes)
Lance Stroll (Rookie, Williams)
Max Verstappen (2015, Red Bull)
Esteban Ocon (2016, Force India)
Stoffel Vandoorne (Rookie, McLaren)
Carlos Sainz (2015, Toro Rosso)
Daniil Kvyat (2014, Toro Rosso)
Kevin Magnussen (2014, Haas)
Jolyon Palmer (2016, Renault)
Marcus Ericsson (2014, Sauber)
Pascal Wehrlein (2016, Sauber)

Mid-tier veterans

(Drivers who have spent between 5 and 10 seasons on the grid)

These drivers have been around long enough to know how things work and have survived long enough to carve out a meaningful F1 career for themselves (very meaningful, as the case is for some).

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Singapore Grand Prix: What I’m Looking Forward To

After wrapping up the European season in Monza, the F1 road show now heads to Asia. First stop: The Marina Bay Street Circuit, the Singapore Grand Prix.

This race definitely has the makings of a real thriller, here’s what I’m personally really looking forward to this weekend.

The title race continues

While Nico Rosberg was expected to deal damage to Lewis Hamilton’s 19 point lead at Spa (given all the engine penalties Hamilton took that sent him to the back of the grid), he wasn’t really expected to further dig into Hamilton’s lead at Monza, a track where Hamilton normally does well at. Nico pounced on Hamilton’s poor start and that was all she wrote. Rosberg won the Grand Prix and cut Hamilton’s championship lead to just 2 points. The two recommence battle this weekend.

We’re now reaching a crucial stretch of the season where any slip up from either driver from here on out may ultimately prove to be very costly.

It’s hard to say which driver has the advantage here. In their time as teammates (which is a much fairer comparison), Rosberg finished 4th ahead of Hamilton (5th) in 2013 but that was the last time both of these drivers have both finished the Grand Prix. Rosberg retired in 2014 with an electrical problem as Hamilton went on to win the race, and in 2015 it was Hamilton’s who retired with Rosberg finishing the race in 4th place.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the title cont enders fare in Singapore, because there’s another serious factor at play here…

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Felipe Massa: A Career in Exceeding Expectations

The year was 2002, the location was Melbourne Australia, the car was all shades of blue and the helmet was neon green. Inside the cockpit a young man from Säo Paulo Brazil prepared himself for his Formula One debut in Australia, the beginning of a 14 year career that would take him places he could never have imagined. His name was Felipe Massa.

Similar to Massa, 2002 was my F1 rookie year too — that was the year the love affection began. I didn’t know much about the sport, the teams or the drivers so I didn’t really know who to root for at first. But one of the things that helped me make up my mind when it came to a driver was his helmet. When I was younger drivers helmets were very important when choosing what drivers I liked. If you weren’t at least quick, you had to have a cool helmet otherwise it was a no from me. Silly I know, but hey, helmets needed to look cool you know?

But Felipe’s helmet was one that grabbed my attention — mainly because it’s so flipping bright. It’s hard to mistake him for anyone else.

massasauber

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